Thieves prefer snowboards |

Thieves prefer snowboards

It took less than two minutes for Ben McLeod to lose his snowboard.

Sierra-at-Tahoe’s spokesman was at a ski area in New England last year when his board was stolen seconds after he put it down.

“I have never felt so violated in my life. It just feels awful,” he said. “(I) just went inside to grab my shoes – I didn’t even put them on – and it was gone. Somebody had been watching me.”

Dozens of people fall victim to similar crimes at South Shore ski resorts each year, and few of the thieves are ever caught.

“We got hit pretty hard last year,” said Sgt. Don Atkinson of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department. “But my impression is that we are down this year.”

The sheriff’s department has investigated 24 equipment thefts this year but many crimes go unreported, according to Atkinson, who said that number is down by about 30 percent from this time last year. Last year 95 thefts were reported, down from 110 the year before.

In the past, the crime has largely been one of opportunity, but Atkinson said that increasingly thieves are working in teams and are putting thought into ripping off skiers and snowboarders.

Close to 100 equipment thefts took place at Heavenly Ski Resort last season, but less than 50 have occurred this winter, according to Security Director Gordon Morse. Most victims, however, chose not to report the crimes to the police.

“We are in much better shape this year. The thefts are down by at least half,” Morse said. “Of course we have not had the season we had last year, but if you consider the number of guests we have – between 850,000 and 900,000 – we do a pretty good job.

“Snowboards the last few years have been the hot item,” Morse added.

McLeod agreed that snowboards are by far the most popular target and said around 70 have been taken this season at Sierra-at-Tahoe. The number of thefts last year was not available, but McLeod estimated that it was higher.

According to Atkinson, five years ago most thieves were trying to steal skis, but now snowboards account for 80 percent of the equipment stolen from ski areas.

“The lesson is: learn to ski,” joked McLeod, who said a brand new pair of expensive skis are much less likely to be stolen. “Stolen equipment has always been a problem but we are doing everything we can to alleviate that.”

Both Heavenly and Sierra-at-Tahoe put people undercover to help catch criminals and encourage people not to leave their things unattended. Security personnel at both resorts make frequent foot patrols in high traffic areas.

“It is just like taking money from your pocket, throwing it in the snow and walking away,” Morse said.

Officials at Sierra-at-Tahoe are also thinking about installing security cameras near their equipment racks, according to McLeod.

“Unfortunately we can’t guarantee that everyone who comes up here is honest. It is a real bummer.”

Atkinson credited better investigation techniques and resorts for the decrease in thefts this year.

“We are winning the war and it is getting better every year,” he said, but encouraged people to report thefts and to write down the serial numbers on their equipment.

“People figure that their insurance will cover it, so why bother,” Atkinson said. “We recover property all the time from known criminals that we can’t return because we don’t know who it belongs to. A lot of it is stolen, but it hasn’t been reported missing.”

“I have been skiing for 30 years – and I have certainly had equipment stolen – but I can’t think of a more negative thing happening to one of our guests,” Morse said. “This stuff is getting so expensive, I mean up to a $1,000 for a set of skis or a snowboard, that to lose it is one of the worst things that can happen at a ski area.”

McLeod always checks his equipment when he goes snowboarding now.

“We are very concerned about (crime) and we think our customers should be concerned too. We wish we could guarantee their equipment won’t be stolen, but we can’t.”

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