Rising cost of mountain rescues | AspenTimes.com

Rising cost of mountain rescues

Jeremy Heiman

A rescue can be expensive.

Nobody who has been rescued by a county sheriff’s department or a volunteer search and rescue organization ever expected to get lost or injured or trapped in the first place. But it happens. And it’s not unusual for a high mountain rescue in the middle of winter to cost as much as $40,000, said Bill Haggerty, information officer for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

And a lost or injured party can be held responsible for the cost of the rescue. County sheriff’s departments may also bill the victim for the cost.

But for anyone who ventures into the backcountry, whether for skiing, snowshoeing or other activities, there’s a tiny insurance policy. Carrying a valid Colorado fishing or hunting license or a Colorado hiking certificate will ensure that, no matter what the rescue costs, the county sheriff’s department will be reimbursed by the state for the rescue expenses.

If the victim can present a license or hiking certificate, the state’s search and rescue fund will reimburse the county. But if not, the victim may be liable.

“If you do something stupid in the wild and the county sheriff can’t get reimbursed,” Haggerty said, “he’s gonna hand you the bill for that $40,000 or whatever.”

Colorado small-game and fishing licenses expire Jan. 31. A regular small-game license costs $15.25, and a fishing license is $20.25.

They are sold at Division of Wildlife offices such as the one in West Glenwood and in some sporting goods stores. Some grocery stores handle hunting and fishing licenses, too. Twenty-five cents on each license goes to the state’s search and rescue fund and is used to reimburse counties across the state for rescue expenses.

A one-year hiking certificate is sold for $1, and all proceeds go to search and rescue funding, Haggerty said. A five-year hiking certificate can be had for $5. Hiking certificates expire on the anniversary of purchase and can be bought from the DOW or from sporting goods outlets, as well.

In most years, Haggerty said, sales of licenses and certificates will provide enough money to reimburse counties for all rescues conducted. There have been years when the fund was short, though, he said.

Mountain Rescue Aspen doesn’t have personnel costs because everyone is a volunteer, said Debbie Kelly, president of Mountain Rescue Aspen. But rescue costs can be driven up by damage to equipment or by the cost of helicopter time or rental of a snowcat, Kelly said. Food delivered to a trailhead for rescue volunteers is another common expense. And overtime pay for sheriff’s deputies mounts up quickly.

Hiking certificates and fishing and hunting licenses are available at a number of Aspen-area outlets.

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