Rope-ducking fine could increase to $1,000
EAGLE COUNTY ” Skiers and snowboarders riding in areas closed by ski resorts could be fined $1000 if a bill to increase penalties is approved by the state Legislature.
The bill has the support of some law enforcement agencies in the mountains and not surprisingly, some locals are unhappy with the current $300 fine and don’t like the prospect of an increase.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” said a Vail Resorts employee who admitted to frequently skirting the law but asked his name be withheld for fear of recriminations from his employer. “It’s ridiculous because if you get stuck in there it’s your own fault. If it’s in the ski area, you should be able to ski it.”
Vail closes two areas to discourage skiers and snowboarders from riding in areas where snowshoe hare, elk and lynx are more common. One is near Simba run and the other is in Blue Sky Basin. Beaver Creek closes four areas, two where avalanche danger is higher and two on private property.
The fine for riding through closed areas is $300. The backcountry is not covered under the law. The new bill unanimously passed the House Local Government Committee on Tuesday.
High Country sheriffs, including Summit County’s John Minor, said some riders are not deterred by the $300 ticket.
“I believe it’s just a blatant disregard,” said Minor, who expects to cite 80 skiers for violations this year. “We’ve done so much education on this that I believe people know that it’s a crime.”
But in Eagle County, Sheriff Joe Hoy said deputies have not fined anyone for riding in closed areas. The reason may be the restricted terrain at Summit County’s resorts is more challenging and attractive to skiers than restricted areas at Vail and Beaver Creek, he said.
“We don’t have a lot of that terrain that is still inbounds,” Hoy said. “There’s not as much terrain that would be too good to resist.”
An increased fine is likely to prevent rope ducking, Hoy said.
“For some people the temptation to duck a rope is a big deal,” Hoy said. “Now all of a sudden we slap a $1,000 fine on it and they’ll start to think.”
Summit County ” home of Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and Copper Mountain ” has had seven search-and-rescue operations for missing skiers and snowboarders this year. One snowboarder spent two nights in the Jones Gulch area at Keystone and the sheriff’s office is trying to recoup the costs of that search, which included $1,000 for a helicopter transport to a hospital.
Minor’s concerned about how busy his county’s volunteer search-and-rescue team has been, he said. The group has gone with ski patrollers into areas covered by deep snow and dotted with sinkholes and downed trees.
The searches costs taxpayers too because the sheriff’s office pays for the workman’s compensation insurance for the volunteers, Minor said.
However, teams statewide aren’t seeing a similar trend, said Howard Paul, executive director of the Colorado Search and Rescue Board.
Rescues of skiers and snowboarders ” both in closed areas and in the backcountry ” accounted for 5 percent of missions in 2004. Hikers, meanwhile, accounted for 30 percent of that year’s 1,427 operations, Paul said.
Winter rescues can be more labor intensive and require volunteers who are skilled skiers and trained in avalanche danger, Paul said.
“The people who are doing the searching this weekend are very frequently out doing backcountry skiing themselves the next weekend, sometimes near the same area,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.