Like many in aquatics, I began my career with a low level job at a waterfront. I wasn’t a guard at the time, but a pool host, and enforcing rules was part of the job. Once in a while I would take a shift at Mountainside, one of the resort’s waterparks. Consequently, I learned the rules of the Giant Rapid River Ride, a water slide designed for tubes, and witnessed the tears of children denied.

I like to know why rules exist. That way, when a guard enforced them and the patron complained, I could explain it to them and turn a potentially bad situation to good. I asked why kids under 48 inches couldn’t use the slide if they passed a swim test. The response was, “I don’t really know, but that’s what the insurance company tells us. If the guests push it, you should tell them that.” I never really questioned it, and parroted the words to patrons.

Over several summers, I gradually worked my way up the ranks to supervising Mountainside Waterpark. I now had the pleasure of experiencing the wrath of parents as the Person in Charge.

A few words need to be said about Mountainside. It was built in the 80s and has had updates, but essentially remains the same as the day it opened. The height rule for the Giant Rapid River Ride had been passed on by word of mouth for years. Sure, it was typed on pages in handbooks, and posted on signs. But the reasoning was always whispered from one staffer to the next, like passing along a secret code.

It wasn’t until the manager resigned and the next shift upward occurred. My immediate superior and I were promoted to Manager and Assistant Manager, respectively. We were big fans of questioning the status quo, and wondered about that rule. We’d worked that slide many times, and found that the little kids were the ones least likely to need rescuing.

Then, a big idea struck. I asked my boss who told her the rule, she asked me who told me the rule. We both named past head guards. Maybe it was time to stop trusting the word passed along from guard to guard. We had basically been playing the telephone game with the rule and the reasoning.

My boss dug out the manual for the Giant Rapid River Ride, and began to scan the pages. She cried, “Aha!” and pointed to a page. There it was in print: the manufacturer’s rules. It stated that if a child was between 45- and 48-inches tall, and an adequate swimmer, they could ride the slide wearing a coast guard approved personal floatation device.

Upper management gave the go ahead, and we implemented the change. The overwhelming majority of guests were pleased with the new rule, and we saw no change in the number of rescues — they may have even dropped!

The Lessons

1) Actively listen to guests. Ask questions to clarify the issue.

2) Be open to change. Give each complaint the attention it deserves rather than reverting to the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ mentality.

3) Research and respond. Sometimes, you will be reinforcing the rule but providing the patron with better understanding and better service.  Other times, you might find that the old ways don’t work anymore, or aren’t even correct.

Tara Snow is aquatics assistant manager at Smugglers’ Notch Resort. She is a lifeguard instructor and Certified Pool Operator. Snow is responsible for hiring, training and managing a staff of 20 to 100 aquatics professionals, depending on the season.