Local police take to the powder for patrol
Spotting an in-uniform officer on skis may seem out of the ordinary, but at Vail and Beaver Creek, officers from agencies valley-wide have been taking to the slopes for patrol for years. While on the mountain, officers assist ski patrol, provide medical assistance, interact with the community and otherwise respond to the rare precarious situation.
“This program is authorized by Sheriff James Van Beek under an intergovernmental agreement with the police departments and Vail Resorts,” reads an Avon Police Department Facebook post from Feb. 3 stating that the mountain patrol program was established in a “continued effort to ensure a family-friendly, safe ski and snowboarding environment.”
Eagle Police Sergeant Luke Causey said he has been involved in the mountain patrol program for nine seasons. Despite his and other officers’ presence on the mountain, Causey said in most interactions at Vail or Beaver Creek, people are surprised to see the law enforcement there.
“Usually it’s, ‘I’ve never seen a police officer on the ski mountain before, what do you guys do?’ and then that opens the door to have a conversation and a good chat about why we’re up there,” Causey said.
Engaging in these conversations with community members are important, Causey said, as they build the relationship and trust people have with law enforcement. Causey said that often, he finds himself sharing about safety issues, recommendations, snow reports, and even directions to those who approach him on the mountain.
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Positive interactions with kids and families are among his favorites, Causey shared. Additionally, he said being on the mountain is a great way for local law enforcement to introduce themselves to residents and visitors alike in a fun environment.
“It’s good to reinforce that your local police are people too and they’re there to join in on the same stuff,” Causey said.
Avon Police Officer Brad Stamp also participates in the mountain patrol program. Stamp said that because he works in Avon, he limits his mountain patrol shifts to Beaver Creek. There, Stamp said he has run into people who have skied there for 30 years yet had never seen police on the mountain until now.
Like Causey and Stamp, law enforcement professionals involved in the mountain patrol program commit 40 hours of their own time to on-ski patrolling throughout the season. Since they’re patrolling during their days off from working at their respective law enforcement agencies, Stamp said the officers involved in the program complete their hours in exchange for a ski pass.
“There’s not many of us who do it,” Stamp said. “It might average one person, two people a week on either Vail or Beaver Creek.”
Stamp said that he has enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the community in a different way.
“It’s one more place in society where people can see law enforcement as their friends and partners and helpers and come to us if they need us,” Stamp said.
To comply with the conditions on the mountain, police officers wear modified uniforms while on mountain patrol. Despite wearing something different from their typical uniforms, those on mountain patrol are still recognizable as police officers. Officers wear name tags and patches indicating that they are police.
Stamp said that visibility and recognizability as law enforcement on the mountain is one of the purposes of the mountain patrol program.
“The presence of having officers around might deter some shenanigans or other criminal activity,” Stamp said.
Causey said that the tools officers carry while on the hill may be slightly different than what they have on their person when normally on patrol.
“We carry regular safety stuff—firearm, handcuffs—and then we carry a lot of medical equipment and we carry a lot of communications equipment to be able to talk to both our dispatch and ski patrol dispatch, we do carry their radios with us,” Causey said.
On Feb. 3, Officer Stamp and Sgt. Causey were both patrolling the mountain at Beaver Creek. Stamp said usually, officers hit the slopes solo for their patrol days.
“I think that just happened to work out that way, we know each other and that’s the first time we had skied together,” Stamp said.
Though when officers from different agencies do get to hit the slopes together for patrol, Stamp said it’s another opportunity to get to know their brothers and sisters from other departments in the most fun environment.
Whether solo or in partnership with an officer from another law enforcement agency, Stamp said that those patrolling the mountain don’t have a to-do list for the day in particular. Because assisting ski patrol is a large portion of what these officers do while patrolling the mountain, Stamp and Causey said officers are typically asked to be at least an intermediate level of skiing.
“We want our police officers to be able to get down the mountain safely,” Causey said. “There’s no expectation that they’re champion ski racers, but you need to be able to navigate the mountain.”
Causey said that assisting ski patrol can look like lots of things, but often, just standing beside ski patrol while they do their jobs can help things go easier for them.
“Generally speaking, law enforcement helps everyone behave better,” Causey said. “On the ski hill, it’s not a whole lot different.”
Because of this, Causey and Stamp said ski patrol are typically very happy to have officers there and are welcoming hosts to law enforcement. Most of the time, officers act as additional pairs of eyes and ears for ski patrol, though in some circumstances, having law enforcement present can make major differences for them.
“One of the more interesting interactions I had with ski patrol was when they actually asked me over to help because I was on the mountain when some people were just over the ropes, outside the ski boundary and ski patrol was trying to find out, get their names and find out who they were,” Stamp said. “Just by me showing up there and telling them, ‘Hey, you’re talking to law enforcement, I could literally arrest you for trespassing and take you off the mountain’ and that was enough for them to become cooperative, give their names, lose their pass for a while, but everything was good, you know?”
Stamp said even though it is a minor thing for law enforcement officers to do, that kind of assistance can make a big difference in circumstances when ski patrol may feel powerless otherwise. In situations like those, the officers said they are happy to help out.
Throughout the rest of the season, and in years to come, Causey encouraged community members to go up to say hello to officers they see on mountain patrol.
“It’s going to make their day,” Causey said. “It’s a great opportunity to interact in a positive environment, which is so valuable right now—to have positive interactions.”