Skiing jaunt exacts a fine; big penalties for out-of-bound rides
It can be a deliberate act or a simple mistake. Either way, the motivation is most likely fresh snow and extreme terrain.
Out-of-bounds snow riding is common in the Sierra and sometimes it exacts a price.
To purchase a resort lift ticket and ride past marked boundaries is a misdemeanor in Nevada and California. In Nevada, a bail of $500 is set and a judge determines a fine amount. In California, it’s a crime punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
Many resorts in the area have a zero-tolerance policy regarding out-of-bounds riding.
“Do people go there? Yes. Have we made rescues? Yes. Often we hear the excuse: ‘I was just following the freshies,'” said Jeffrey Walters, vice president of mountain operations at Kirkwood Mountain Resort. “But if someone goes through a posted boundary they’ll lose their pass.
“It used to be not so bad, but with all marketing hype about extreme skiing, people are going out of bounds more and more.”
The penalties of backcountry skiing at a winter resort can be more serious than a ticket. Two seasons ago at Kirkwood a man went out of bounds and fell hundreds of feet to his death. A patroller witnessed the fall but could do nothing to prevent it.
Last year, two men and a woman went out of bounds at Kirkwood and one of them nearly died of hypothermia. He was found, after several hours of exposure to a winter storm, walking in circles on a frozen Caples Lake. The other riders were able to hike to safety at a lodge next to the lake. Kirkwood’s staff found the three after searching for several hours.
“We have a pretty good idea where to look for tracks,” Walters said. “We have a few areas we go to look and usually we find 80-to 90-percent of skiers there.”
Kirkwood, and other resorts in the area, decide on case-by-case basis if they will charge an out-of-bounds rider for a rescue operation.
“Most often we do absorb the cost, but we do have the option to charge for these rescues,” Walters said. “Those three nearly lost their lives. We figured that was enough.”
Kirkwood is not the only winter resort that has to deal with out-of-bounds skiing; all of them do.
Mark McAllister has worked as a ski patroller for 16 years and is director of patrol at Heavenly. He said once the new gondola opens up an out-of-bounds area already popular with the public will likely be even more tempting.
“It’s a fire break area and it’s been skied by local public for years; technically it’s been out-of-bounds,” McAllister said. “It’s a remote area and we don’t post armed guards. Any powder day there will be tracks out there, but we’ll be putting ropes and signs out and we’ll take their pass if they go under our ropes.”
This time of year the condition of out-of-bound terrain, even terrain off groomed trails, can be sketchy. Rocks and tree stumps need about a 60-inch base to be safely covered and at this point in November Heavenly has about a two-foot base.
Heavenly Ski Patrol executes six to 10 search-and-rescue operations a year, according to McAllister. Four years ago they even had to go looking for one their employees.
“She went off the side of a ridge and thought she knew where she was going,” McAllister said. “We found her in Heavenly Creek. She was arrested, lost her job and was fined. We take it pretty seriously especially if we have to go out at night.”
At times, resorts call on Douglas County and El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department to assist in search-and-rescue operations. Both departments have a snowcat, several snowmobiles and a trained staff of volunteers.
Such equipment costs about $500 to $650 an hour to operate and another $500 to $1000 could be tacked on if a helicopter is used.
“We take a pretty aggressive stance with people who knowingly go into a closed area,” said El Dorado County Sheriff’s Deputy Terry Fleck. “That’s just a given you’re going to pay the bill.”
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