Washington, Utah

Founder and CEO Michael “Troy” Richardson is on a mission to reduce zipline accidents by manufacturing an innovative braking system and spreading the word about best practices.

In 2000, Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) contacted Richardson to help build an on-mountain zipline attraction. “They asked me to build a zipline trolley that was capable of 60 miles per hour but yet had a braking system, so we built that,” he says.

At the time, Richardson was running a machine and welding shop in Cedar City, Utah. PCMR awarded his shop the contract to build two zipline towers, 30 Richardson Safety Trolleys (RSTs), and two emergency brake systems.

Featuring a 600-foot drop over a span of 3,500 feet,the zipline was delayed by 9/11 and opened in 2002. “It’s been around for almost 21 years, never had a zipline accident, braking-related or anything like that,” he says.

Expertise Leads to New Career

Accidents on ziplines from other manufacturers later led to a second career as an expert witness. “All of a sudden, my expert witness practice just started taking off,” says Richardson. “In two years, I was suddenly the most sought-after zipline witness in the world.”

The high number of accidents — and the fact that half of them were braking-related — led him to launch a product line, Zipline Braking Solutions, in 2021. The catalog includes an auto-braking trolley and barrel springs and spacers.

“I just kept filing patents to try and stop the accidents because the zipline industry has become very accident-prone,” says Richardson. “The zipline industry is six or seven accidents per 100,000 [riders]. The roller coaster industry is one accident per 16 million.”

Insurers project that the number of zipline accidents will continue to rise, he adds. Skyrocketing premiums have impacted Richardson’s ability to release his products, so he started to sell directly to contractors under their policies.

Other braking systems have serious flaws, he says. “Both standards that are out there have stressed that they’re going away from hand-braking. That really messes up a two-wheeled trolley.”

Simple Solution for Safety

Zipline Braking Solutions’ system includes primary and secondary brakes, with an emergency brake as a backup. “And it’s simple,” touts Richardson. “My technology is so simple to understand and learn.”

It all comes back to safety. “My goal is to reduce the accidents, so I write and publish a lot,” says Richardson. “But it’s been a struggle.”

That’s because the industry is resistant to change. “The two-wheeled trolley they have out there is extremely dangerous, but they’re still stuck on using it.”

Manufacturing is outsourced to machine shops in Utah and elsewhere. “I just sub everything out,” says Richardson. “It’s better for me. . . . There’s a lot of stuff that goes into the manufacturing of an amusement item. It’s come to the point where you better have all your ducks in a row. I try to do everything based on the standards.”

A move into licensing has catalyzed growth in 2023. “This year, my sales are up probably 100 percent,” says Richardson.

Challenges: Market awareness. “They don’t realize that the technology has been out for 20 years,” says Richardson. “My patent will be 20 years old this year in October, and Park City has had zero accidents in over 20 years, because they have a primary and a secondary brake system on the trolley, then they have an emergency brake system — which is a spring array — at the end.”

Opportunities: Licensing. “I’ve licensed my patents with American Adventure Park Systems out of Georgia,” says Richardson.”That might be a better way to get the products out there.”

Momentum Engineering is also launching an interactive, video-centric training program to help operators cut down on employee-related zipline accidents. “I’m going to develop an eight- to 16-hour training program,” says Richardson.

Needs: Investors. “I need to be on Shark Tank,” laughs Richardson. “I can only do so much. I can write manuals, which I’ve done, and I can develop new products, which I’ve done, but to be a one-man band for a company and something that really needs to get out there, it’s a struggle.”