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Bowl bandits may find poaching powder costly

The adrenaline buzz from skiing fresh powder in a closed portion of Highland Bowl Wednesday could prove costly for four visiting skiers.

The foursome was nabbed by the ski patrol after ducking the rope along the Ozone trail and diving into the untracked snow in an area of the bowl known as the “G zones,” according to Kevin Heineken, director of snow safety at Aspen Highlands.

Two patrol members watched the foursome hike to the top of the bowl and ski down about one-quarter of the way in bounds. They allegedly crossed beneath a rope and ventured about 50 feet into out-of-bounds terrain, according to Heineken. They stopped to take pictures then headed back in bounds to the traverse out of the bowl, where they were intercepted.

The patrol escorted the four down to the base, where they each received a summons to appear in Pitkin County Court on a charge of violating the Colorado Skier Safety Act, said Deputy Brady Jax.

Receiving a summons were Emily Smith, 27, of Steamboat Springs; Robert Grieve Pelham, 23, of New Zealand; James Korber, 23, of New South Wales, Australia; and Petri Kurki, 24, of Finland.

A fifth member of the party didn’t venture into the forbidden zone.

All four skiers had purchased single-day lift tickets, which were yanked after the incident occurred early in the afternoon.

“They were polite and understanding and knew what they did was wrong,” said Jax. “They asked for a quick court date so they could get it resolved.”

Jax said he believes they will appear in court because failure to do so could affect their ability to travel in the United States as overseas visitors.

Heineken said the Highlands patrol would prefer not to get the police involved, but sometimes feels it is necessary to spread the word about entering closed terrain – especially extreme terrain that might be avalanche prone.

“We just want to get the word out not to do it,” Heineken said. The patrol has worked hard the last few years to open additional extreme terrain in the bowl, he noted.

“Sometimes we have to say, `Damn it, if we say it’s closed, it’s closed,’ ” Heineken said.

The danger in Wednesday’s case was that the group’s actions could have endangered themselves as well as skiers and riders on the open portion of the bowl. If they had triggered an avalanche, it theoretically could have been large enough to affect places “where I told people it was safe to go,” Heineken said.

It’s more difficult to get that message across to visitors who just hold single-day tickets and don’t pay a steep price if their tickets are yanked. Therefore, the patrol is more likely to call the police when visitors are involved.

Locals who get caught crossing into out-of-bounds areas may have their passes yanked for two weeks and be required to write a letter explaining why their actions were wrong.

“We just shouldn’t have problems with locals,” said Heineken.

He said the patrol has caught about 12 people skiing in closed areas of Highlands this season.

Violating the Skier Safety Act is considered a petty offense that can carry a $300 fine upon conviction.

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Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2001


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