SUMMIT COUNTY - While technology has made it easier for Vail Resorts ticket scanners to catch people committing ski pass fraud, law enforcers in Vail are handing out nearly five times as many tickets as Summit County for the misdemeanor offense.
Vail Police Department this year has ticketed more than 188 ski pass fraud offenders on Vail Mountain while Summit County agencies have ticketed only 39 on the four local mountains.
"We haven't done any kind of ski pass enforcement, I don't think, for a while," Summit County Sheriff John Minor said. "We just don't have the resources to do it."
With three deputies on average patrolling more than 600 square miles, "things get a little busy," he said.
Minor said there could be many variables - such as not always getting called when a scanner catches an offender - affecting the widely skewed numbers.
Breckenridge Police Department and the sheriff's office both serve Breckenridge Ski Resort, and the sheriff's office serves Summit County's other three ski areas.
Regardless of law enforcement involvement, the ski areas may revoke passes that are used fraudulently. One friend borrowing another's ski pass is the equivalent of stealing to a ski resort, for the passes are non-transferable - similar to a driver's license.
"It's theft of goods and services," Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga said. "Any business would take that very seriously."
Though Summit has less prosecutions, Keystone Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort have tallied comparable numbers of people committing ski pass and lift ticket fraud. In 2009 Vail Mountain recorded 454 cases, Breckenridge Ski Resort had 418 and Keystone Resort had 337.
"We have been seeing increases of fraud in past years," Ladyga said. "We have become much more sophisticated in terms of our lift tickets scanning technology."
Ticket scanners at the Breckenridge and Keystone last season began using radio-frequency technology - piloted at Vail the previous season - capable of scanning passes in people's pockets, for example, then displaying personal information and a large picture of the person's face on the handheld device's screen.
"We designed it from scratch," Ladyga said of the software.
Vail police chief Dwight Henninger said that with the Epic Pass making its debut last season, the increase of pass fraud cases (from 98 in 2008 to 188 in 2009) at Vail Mountain could have been affected by people unaware of the rules.
"Because so many people had a pass last year for the first time ever, they don't recognize that pass is only for them and not for others," he said.
Henninger said a triage-style system is used to involve police officers when necessary to deal with offenders.
"Their security gets involved to confirm there really is a problem. If they feel like the municipal code was violated, they call us, and we do a formal arrest," he said, adding that the "non-custodial arrest" involves detainment and issue of a summons rather than booking offenders at the local jail.
The misdemeanor crime of lift ticket fraud carries possible fines up to $1,000 and jail time in both Eagle and Summit counties.
Breckenridge police chief Rick Holman said most of the tickets his officers write for ski fraud are likely on days when they volunteer to police the slopes in exchange for complimentary lift tickets.
"Typically we don't just station somebody up at the mountain to see if there's ski pass fraud," he said.
An Arapahoe Basin Ski Area spokesperson declined to reveal pass fraud numbers, and spokespeople at Copper Mountain did not return phone calls.
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or email@example.com.