Fine policy for rescues at Steamboat Ski Area might be working

Matt Stensland

— Officials at Steamboat Ski Area believe the possibility of a fine is working to deter inexperienced skiers and riders from venturing out of bounds into dangerous terrain.

For the first time, the ski area this season began notifying skiers and riders that they could face a fine of $500 per person if Ski Patrol has to rescue them in the backcountry.

The new policy garnered statewide media attention because Steamboat was the first ski area to roll out such a fine.

The policy was in response to an increase in the number of skiers and boarders who were leaving the ski area to ski out of bounds. This led to an increase in the number of people who needed to be rescued because they did not know where they were going.

During one mission two years ago, about 12 skiers needed to be rescued after they followed someone’s tracks and got stranded on a cliff.

Signs at access gates now notify skiers of the risks and the fine policy.

“I think the message is getting out there, and people are respecting the backcountry,” ski area spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said.

So far this season, Ski Patrol has not had to rescue anyone who left the ski area and gotten in trouble in Fish Creek Canyon.

There have been a handful of calls related to potential rescues, but no actual rescues have been needed. In one case, someone called because they thought their friend was in the canyon, but the friend ended up not being in the canyon.

In past years, Ski Patrol has typically had rescues during the first two months of the season.

“It is unusual for us not to have calls at this point in the season,” Kasten said.

Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade group that represents most Colorado ski areas, is curious to see if the policy proves effective.

“It’s definitely something that has been followed and discussed in the industry, so I think there is general interest to see what happens,” Colorado Ski Country spokesman Chris Linsmayer said. “It’s a real problem when ski patrol and other resources have to get pulled out of bounds to rescue someone.”

Aside from the possibility of being fined, ski area officials believe the avalanche danger may have kept more people from venturing into the backcountry from gates at the ski area.

The avalanche danger has proven to be real in Routt County this season.

A snowmobile triggered an avalanche on Rabbit Ears Pass on Dec. 11. Three riders were buried, but everyone had avalanche safety equipment and survived.

On Jan. 12, an avalanche in the Fish Creek drainage injured a Routt County Search and Rescue member, who was on his way to rescue two lost skiers who had accessed the area from Buffalo Mountain.On Tuesday, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported the avalanche danger for the Steamboat zone was considerable. New snow has produced dangerous avalanche conditions.

“Avalanches could break up to 3 feet deep on wind-loaded slopes near ridgelines and in cross-loaded terrain features,” CAIC reported. “You are most likely to trigger an avalanche on slopes steeper than around 30 degrees that have more than 12 inches of recent storm snow.”

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland