Entering closed terrain in Snowmass could have dire consequences, officials emphasize
“No powder turn on the planet is worth doing that,” Skico spokesperson says
There comes a “tipping point” in every ski season — a shift in skier behavior, or snowpack, or both — when the temptation of fresh turns in untracked powder spurs the resurgence of rope-duckers entering closed terrain at Snowmass. This year is no exception: Snowmass police have issued seven $250 tickets to violators in the past two weeks.
That’s according to Dave Heivly, a Snowmass police officer who spends one day per week working on the mountain with ski patrol as part of a joint Mountain Security program with Aspen Skiing Co. (A total of seven Snowmass officers each take a one-day shift on the mountain.)
The rope-ducking conundrum happens frequently at Snowmass because of the resort’s abundant inbounds gated terrain; areas like The Cirque, KT Gully and Garrett’s Gulch are often the scene of the crime, Heivly said.
Those “islands” of closed terrain are a unique attribute to the mountain, said Snowmass Police Chief Brian Olson.
“It’s not a matter of leaving the ski area boundary,” he said.
Violations aren’t exclusive to Snowmass, according to Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle; it tends to occur in steeper terrain at Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands, as well.
The problem typically crops up when new snowfall hits after a lull in precipitation, according to Olson. But Heivly said it’s hard to predict exactly when (or why) a “rash” of violations will occur in a given season.
“It happens every year and it happens at different times,” Heivly said. “The strange thing is, historically, it doesn’t last all season.”
Last year, the town issued around a dozen citations within 10 days early in the season before violations tapered off.
Perhaps the $250 ticket becomes a deterrent — at least for repeat offenders. Heivly said the town never has issued a second-offense citation, which would include a summons to court per the town’s municipal code. (It’s illegal to enter closed terrain anywhere in Colorado, according to the Skier Safety Act.)
But those repercussions are only applicable “if they survive their poor decisions,” Heivly said.
With a weak snowpack and high avalanche danger in Colorado this season, entering untouched terrain could have dire consequences for the violator, other resort guests and ski patrollers; to boot, five of the seven recent offenses occurred when skiers and snowboarders entered active avalanche control areas, Heivly said.
Skico doesn’t take the matter lightly either, according Hanle. The company may revoke pass privileges for violators; the extent of repercussions “depends on the severity, the intent, the danger, and quite frankly, the degree of culpability and responsibility,” he said.
“It’s a serious matter,” he said. “It can put their lives in danger and it can put other skiers in danger.”
It also puts patrollers at risk when rope-duckers obstruct avalanche controls or require a rescue in an area that was closed for good reason.
“It’s irresponsible and wrong and dangerous for someone to ignore that (closure),” Hanle said. “No powder turn on the planet is worth doing that.”
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Colorado State Patrol will send extra troopers to Independence Pass but tools such as one-way, directional travel through the Narrows are not being considered.