Fraud down at chairlift lines |

Fraud down at chairlift lines

William Ferchland

A South Shore resort reported another decline in ski pass theft as fines have increased and ticket checkers compete for money to catch offenders.

Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort officials stated 147 passes were pulled from illegitimate users, down 48 from last year.

Paul Beran, lift operations manager, believes there are several factors for the drop. Hand-held machines that scan tickets, cheap season passes, word of mouth and ticket checkers vying for paycheck hikes were among the reasons.

Heavenly Mountain Resort officials were unavailable for comment and Kirkwood Mountain Resort remains open.

Most of the Sierra-at-Tahoe ticket checkers left for their home country or took a vacation after the resort closed this month. The ticket checkers on the low-end of the wage totem pole had incentives for catching what they call “poachers.”

If a poacher was caught using a pass on a blackout day the checker received a $5 Sierra gift certificate. Ten dollars would be added to the paycheck if someone was caught with a pass that wasn’t their own. Twenty-five dollars was the reward for an ex-employee trying to use their pass or a pass reported stolen.

“We’ve seen it quite often,” Beran said. “People come up here, get a job and get a (free) pass. Then they just stop showing up to work.”

The rare $100 prize this season was to catch someone with a counterfeit pass.

Beran said two employees each walked away with an additional $1,000. For the 35 lift checkers who make $7.25 an hour for less than 40 hours a week, catching fake passes was like hunting for gold.

“In my opinion, the main reason why we offer the rewards is it’s not the most pleasant job because it’s basically a confrontational job,” Beran said.

According to Willie Shamas, Sierra’s chief of security, the ski area distributed more than $10,000 in employee incentives this year. The amount was basically half of last’s year’s amount. At the beginning of the season, resort officials called around and aligned their reward prices to the industry standard.

Frustrated with fines as minimal as $80 for those who were caught defrauding the resort, Hans Uthe, El Dorado County assistant district attorney, asked for a meeting late last season with judges.

Uthe wanted a more level fine for the infraction. This year the punishment was roughly $500.

“The $500 seems to be doing the trick,” Uthe said. “We see it but we don’t see it as much as we did. People talk to each other. Apparently the word has gotten around.”

– E-mail William Ferchland at

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