Snowmass police chief: Don’t ski in closed areas
After eight people were cited last week for skiing in closed areas at Snowmass, the town’s police chief urged powder hounds to exercise restraint until ski patrol ensures areas are safe.
“It’s shaping up to be a great year … but conditions are precarious,” said Chief Brian Olson, noting ski patrollers can’t be everywhere and certain areas take longer to safely open. “The last thing we need is for someone to get buried.”
Further, ski patrol doesn’t sweep closed areas at the end of the day, so if someone is injured or triggers an avalanche, especially in remote areas that tend to remain closed longer, they’re on their own, he said.
A 21-year-old snowboarder buried in an avalanche Sunday at Steamboat was in a closed area, though apparently hadn’t ducked any ropes, according to media reports.
“You’ll get your turns,” Olson said. “But taking chances like that doesn’t do any of us a favor.”
All eight Snowmass skiers cited Dec. 9 to 11 — four were locals and four were visitors — were hit with a misdemeanor criminal violation of Snowmass Village town law, though it will not count against their criminal history, he said. It will, however, count against their wallets, which will each be $250 lighter if they don’t contest the ticket.
Skiing in closed areas also can affect pass privileges. Snowmass ski patrol pulled the passes from each of the eight skiers cited last week, said Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman.
One of the three men from the Roaring Fork Valley cited Dec. 10 told a ski patroller that his run through the closed area known as Buckskin Cliffs, located about halfway down Sheer Bliss, that got him and his friends nabbed was his third lap through the area that day, Olson said.
“He’d been ducking it all day,” he said. “That’s an area that’s gated and roped off. That’s disappointing.”
Four men from Massachusetts cited Dec. 11 for skiing in a closed area were just above KT Gully, off the upper portion of Sheer Bliss, Olson said. One of the men ducked the rope, became cliffed out and called to his friends for help. All four descended down KT Gully, which was closed, and smack into ski patrollers boot-packing the run, he said.
The circumstances surrounding a Snowmass Village man cited Monday for skiing in a closed area were not available.
A total of 11 people have been ticketed in Snowmass this season so far for skiing in a closed area, according to Snowmass Village police.
“In some cases, people entered a closed area while ski patrol was performing avalanche mitigation using explosives,” according to a post Monday on Snowmass Village police’s website.
Those caught skiing in a closed area at Snowmass are much more likely to face the $250 fine than those caught doing the same thing on the three other area ski mountains, Olson said. That’s because of a safety program Olson started with the Snowmass mountain manager in 1997 in which a Snowmass Village police officer is always skiing on the mountain, he said.
The officers act as security staff and are paid by Aspen Skiing Co., though they do not use police power on the ski mountain, Olson said. A security officer will hand over an offender to an on-duty Snowmass Village police officer if necessary to write a ticket for skiing in a closed area, he said.
“We feel that the Mountain Security program in Snowmass is invaluable,” Hanle said. “The police are better trained in conflict resolution with difficult situations that may arise.”
In other situations, Snowmass ski patrol will hand off offenders directly to Snowmass Village police, which occurred last week in all eight case, Hanle said.
“At Snowmass, we will call the SVPD when the violation occurs in closed avalanche terrain and we will pull passes for two weeks depending on location, severity, explosives work and attitude,” Hanle wrote in an email to The Times. “Longer if deemed appropriate.”
At other mountains, ski patrol can hand off an offender to a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy, who can write a similar ticket based on the Skier Safety Act, which is state law, Hanle said. However, each violation is handled on a case-by-case basis, he said.
“First, patrol tries to determine if the violation was intentional or not,” Hanle said. “Often guests who are used to skiing at European resorts are not familiar with the hard and fast closure policy. On the other end of the spectrum is a guest that has intentionally violated a closure.”
One such situation occurred Sunday at Aspen Highlands, when a ski patroller saw a group of four men cross rope and ski down a closed section of the mountain, according to a Pitkin County Sheriff’s report. The patroller contacted one of the men at the bottom of the mountain and made him wait in the business office until a deputy arrived and wrote him a ticket for violating the state Skier Safety Act, the report states.
The skier told a deputy he didn’t know the area he dropped was closed, according to the report.
Last season and so far this season, deputies wrote a total of two tickets for skiing in a closed area at Highlands in December 2018 and the one last weekend, according to Sheriff’s Office statistics.
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Landmark public lands bill passed by the U.S. House on Friday that would have implications for the Roaring Fork Valley. It must pass the Senate as well.