Four busted for skiing in closed area at Snowmass
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Four men, one a part-time ski instructor for the Aspen Skiing Co., were arrested and fined $150 each on Feb. 3 for skiing in a closed area at the Snowmass Ski Area.
Ten inches of snow fell overnight at Snowmass, and Feb. 3 was the first powder day in nearly a month.
The four men, one of whom was skiing alone, knowingly went under a rope and ended up on the double-black-diamond KT Gully trail on the east side of the Big Burn, said Sgt. Brian Olson of the Snowmass Village Police Department.
The run was closed, and ski patrollers were in the area at the time conducting avalanche control work.
“All of them claimed they didn’t intentionally go in there, but they knew they crossed a rope,” Olson said. “I don’t think they paid enough attention to what the rope meant. That is not an area that is part of the outer ski area boundary.”
There are two types of ropes at the four Aspen/Snowmass ski areas. One is a closed rope, which cannot be ducked under or crossed over at any time. These ropes are typically, but not always, red. In addition to ropes, closed signs are used, which mean the same thing.
The second rope is a ski area boundary rope, typically yellow. These can be crossed at any point, although ski area managers prefer skiers and riders exit the ski area and go into the backcountry through special gates that are marked with danger signs. In addition, if skiers leave the ski area boundary, they are not allowed to come back into the ski area on a closed run or section of the ski area.
On Feb. 3, Troy Hooper, 27, of Aspen, was skiing alone around 10 a.m. when he ducked under a closed rope on the skier’s right of the upper section of the Sheer Bliss trail.
After coming close to the edge of the tall cliffs that line the eastern side of the Burn, Hooper ended up on KT Gully, a steep, narrow run with a well-defined entrance and cliffs on either side of it.
“I made a mistake,” said Hooper. “I knowingly ducked a rope but I didn’t realize where I was when I ducked it. I thought I was going to ski through some trees and back onto another run. I know I made a mistake, and I don’t want to make any excuses.”
An hour after Hooper, a part-time pro with the Skico and the assistant editor of The Aspen Daily News, went into the closed KT Gully, so did three men from California, Thomas Norton, 27, and Aaron Craig Batley, 27, both of Newport Beach, and Mark Johnston, 28, of Santa Monica.
They, too, knowingly went under the closed area rope, Olson said. And patrollers were still in the KT Gully area conducting avalanche control work.
The three men were also arrested and given a $150 summons.
Hooper initially had his season pass pulled after the incident but it has since been returned to him. He plans on paying the $150 fine today.
On Feb. 3, Hooper was seen on KT Gully by a patroller on the High Alpine side of the ski area, who alerted colleagues. As Hooper exited the area below the KT Gully trail, he was contacted by two ski patrollers.
Typically at that point, patrollers turn violators over to a ski area security worker and they are escorted to the ski area administration building, where they are met by the police.
If the Skico and the police think the violation is serious enough, the person is arrested and given a summons for violating the town of Snowmass Village’s municipal code.
Last year, the town adopted a provision similar to the Colorado Skier Safety Act, which allows for skiers or snowboarders who violate a closed area to be arrested and given a ticket.
“They are technically arrested,” said Olson. “But basically it is a summons and release. It is similar to a traffic ticket. Now they have the option to pay the fine within 10 days.”
The arrests were the first this ski season for violating a closed area at the Snowmass Ski Area. The men are also the first to be cited under Snowmass’ new municipal law.
Ann Stephenson, Pitkin County Sheriff’s patrol director, said there have been no arrests in the county this season for violating the Colorado Skier Safety Act. Last season, two skiers were arrested for going into a closed area at Aspen Highlands.
The Snowmass Ski Area is within the jurisdiction of the town of Snowmass Village. Closed-area violators on Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk Mountain are turned over to the county to be arrested and summoned.
The Skico has the discretion to push for violators to be arrested or not. In the case of the four men at Snowmass, the company wanted to see them arrested, Olson said.
“For all four of those guys, it was pretty clear,” he said. “They all went under a rope to get into KT. And there were patrollers actively controlling the area.”
Skiers or riders who enter a closed run that is being controlled by patrollers could possibly set off a slide that would endanger the patrollers, or the skiers or riders could get caught in a slide purposefully set off by the patrol.
Hooper, who told police he was looking for a shortcut between the Big Burn area and the Alpine Springs/High Alpine part of the mountain, was not aware of patrol activity in the area.
“I didn’t see any patrollers or hear any explosives,” he said.
But the other three knowingly skied through the closure even though they heard avalanche bombs going off in the area, according to Olson.
Two of the three men appeared in Snowmass Village municipal court last Thursday, pleaded no contest and “explained they were not in the know,” Olson said.
[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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