Celebs duck rope, head waaay downhill
ASPEN – It’s easy to get lost in rough-and-tumble Hollywood, but Aspen Mountain provided a whole new challenge Saturday for a group of skiing celebrities.After a morning ripping through race gates in the Celebrity Downhill to raise money for Aspen Youth Experience, celebrities Rob Morrow, Chad Lowe, Fisher Stevens and Kim Painter (who also works in entertainment) took on Aspen’s double-blacks above Gentleman’s Ridge.They got in way over their heads.”We’re all good skiers,” said Morrow, who is recognizable from his role on “Northern Exposure.” But the group of four didn’t know the mountain, and on a day of periodic snow squalls and heavy fog found themselves out of bounds east of Aspen, far below Walsh’s and the Lud’s Lane catwalk.”We were going every which way,” Morrow said.And they weren’t the only ones.Chris Roberts of California said he ripped a line over the catwalk at the bottom of Walsh’s and found himself far down a gully and out of bounds. He called his sister, who was up above, and she contacted Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol.When the two patrollers arrived, bringing Roberts a set of snowshoes so he wouldn’t “post-hole” through the snow in his snowboard boots, they heard voices and the two young rescuers found themselves in a unique situation: a 2-for-1 rescue job of five people, including three B-list celebrities.Having skied far below the ski area boundary, the patrollers decided to lead the group down rather than back up.From about 2 p.m. when the first call went out, the group followed patrollers down the steep, heavily wooded terrain. In heavy snow, and likely dodging running streams and tree wells, the ill-fated group found its way to the valley floor just before 5 p.m. Attracted by the flashing lights of police cruisers parked along Highway 82 a few miles east of Aspen, the lost group appeared like distant dots in the falling snow. Cops were in for a surprise when the first ski patroller and first rescued skier trudged up to the roadside.”You’re the Northern Exposure guy,” said one police official when he recognized Morrow. The actor smiled wide and slumped in the snow bank, tired from the ordeal.
“Max and Dale were unbelievable,” Morrow said of the two Aspen ski patrollers who led the group down the mountain (but didn’t want to disclose their last names).”It ended up being great because it was a good adventure,” Morrow said. The skiers had plenty of food thanks to ski patrollers, Morrow said, and once they were safely following their guides, the group even enjoyed it.At one point they found a good stretch of snow, Stevens said, and one of the patrollers said, “Now this is what you’ve been training for.”Roberts, the snowboarder who was first out of bounds, said he didn’t see the signs and ropes marking the boundary below the Lud’s Lane catwalk. He remembered boarding over the catwalk itself without looking either way.”This is the hardest part of the trip,” Stevens said as he tried to navigate the roadside fence and climb over the snow bank. “I love being on solid ground,” he said after clicking out of his skis, and said, “Good rescue” to the two patrollers.Asked who led the ill-fated celebs out of bounds, Stevens would only say, “I’m the follower… unfortunately.”The group was eager to hop in the warm, waiting patrol cars and looked forward to dinner and drinks in town.
Saturday’s celebs aren’t the first to unwittingly ski out of bounds below Walsh’s.”It seems to be a chronic problem with us,” said Mario Strobl, a Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputy. “We seem to get this call pretty often.”Skiers see tracks leading below the catwalk at the bottom of Walsh’s and just follow, Strobl said, “and next thing you know they’re in a waterfall.”Larry Miller of New York City skied out of bounds below Walsh’s on Dec. 9, 2006 and wasn’t as lucky as Saturday’s group. When Miller heard about the repeat performance, he huffed, “They haven’t done the changes?!”Miller, who tore a ligament and swam the near-freezing waters of the Roaring Fork River during his 7-hour trip to the valley floor, said he crossed the ski area boundary unknowingly because the rope was far above his head. He has suggested before that Skico mark the boundary more clearly. “I think it’s highly irresponsible for [Skico] not to barricade that area,” he said Saturday.”There is literally no way out,” Miller said of the dangerous terrain below Walsh’s. “Once you stumble down past that point past Lud’s Lane, you cannot get back.”
When asked about Saturday’s group of out-of-bounds skiers, Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said, “The first guy had gone out into the Pandora’s area.” Hanle said Roberts, the snowboarder, knew what he was doing by heading out of bounds, but just overshot the catwalk and called his sister when he found himself in trouble.When sheriffs sent the Aspen patrollers, they found Roberts had already committed and it would be easier to just ski out. That’s when they heard the celebs.”They decided to go under the rope, and patrol just happened to be there,” Hanle said of the Hollywood pack.
“We’ll look at it again,” Hanle said of the boundary below Walsh’s, but said patrollers added three more signs to the area after Miller’s mishap.Saturday’s troubles might have had more to do with the wet snow squalls and fog than anything else, Hanle said, adding that the skiers in question were safe and “probably already out to dinner and drinks.”There have been more incidents below Walsh’s this year, Hanle said, than any other in his 7-year tenure and that Skico takes these things very seriously.But the celebs didn’t. Though tired and weak after their adventure, they interviewed each other using their digital cameras and said they looked forward to a night on the town with stories to tell.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com.