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Triple Black Diamond: Out of Bounds

Dylan Riley

As the ski season usually descends on the Sierra ahead of the brunt of winter, preparatory notice is already in place warning outdoor enthusiasts that criminal and civil penalties are in store for those venturing outside the boundaries of established ski resorts.

The penalties for knowingly skiing outside the boundaries not only affect the pocketbook, but dangerous. It is a misdemeanor crime to venture out-of-bounds, punishable by potential jail time of six months or fines reaching as high as $1,000. Once outside established boundaries, ski resorts are no longer liable so individuals can be charged for costs arising from search and rescue efforts made on their behalf.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Department wants skiers and snowboarders to be aware of the danger ahead of time. According to Sgt. Tom Mezzetta, costs can increase quickly during a search and rescue effort.

“A typical rescue effort with aircraft can run from $300 to $400 an hour. We have both a helicopter and other aircraft available,” said Mezzetta.

There are also specialty teams such as dog trackers from outside agencies that would need to be reimbursed for their costs, Mezzetta said.

When skiing, especially if its in the backcountry, the sheriff’s department suggests letting friends and family know where you will be and what time you expect to return. Skiers and snowboarders should be prepared for rapid weather and temperature changes.

Cell phones are recommended as well as small first aid kits, waterproof matches, flashlights, emergency flares or beacons and food items such as energy bars.

Many searches begin around nightfall, which makes it especially difficult but not impossible for the volunteer teams.

Tragically though, sometimes searches are too late. Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue, for example, were involved in an out-of-bounds incident in February three miles south of the Sugar Bowl Ski area, and north of Squaw Valley, that left one experienced back country skier dead. Three skiers traversing the North Bowl of Mt. Anderson with climbing skins were buried by an avalanche 200 feet from the top. One was able to escape and free the other, but the third skier wasn’t recovered until a beacon search located her 45 minutes later.

During the search time a call was made via cell phone from the rescuers to 911 which connected them to Sugar Bowl Ski Patrol who helped aid in the rescue efforts, even though they were in between ski resorts. The victim was forced through about 50 feet of very tight trees and ended up against one last tree, buried under four feet of snow. Death was caused by trauma.

Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team, Sugar Bowl Ski Patrol, Placer County Sheriffs Department and CareFlight all took part in the search efforts according to a report from Steve Reynaud of Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue.


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