Ski/snowboard-related crimes on rise in Vail |

Ski/snowboard-related crimes on rise in Vail

Lauren Glendenning
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colo. – There’s no difference between using a friend’s ski pass for the day or stealing $75 worth of goods from a store, police say. Stealing is stealing.

That’s how the Vail Police Department and Vail Resorts treat cases where someone has either borrowed a friend’s ski pass for the day or stolen a pass.

The top ski hill-related crimes reported to the Vail Police Department include both ski pass fraud and stolen ski and snowboard equipment, according to the police department’s crime data from 2008, the most recent year available.

Vail Mountain identified 454 ski pass fraud cases in the 2008-09 ski season – almost double the amount from the previous year, Vail Mountain spokeswoman Liz Biebl said.

Vail police report 188 pass fraud cases, which police categorize as “deceptive use of ski facilities,” from Jan. 1 to Dec. 3 of this year. There were 82 cases for the same time period in 2008, said Kris Cureau, records manager for the Vail Police Department.

Biebl said the increase is in part due to the new technology used to scan passes.

“With the [radio frequency] technology that was introduced last season, the hand-held scanners we use at Vail bring up easy-to-read pass holder information and a large picture of the pass holder,” Biebl said.

When ticket scanners recognize someone they believe is using a pass fraudulently, they call mountain security, who then call Vail police, Biebl said.

“Vail Resorts has done a much better job in the last two years in training their lift operators on how to recognize [deceptive pass users],” Cureau said.

Biebl said Vail Resorts continues to remind guests that passes are just like driver’s licenses or identification cards – they’re nontransferable.

“It’s considered theft of services, and there are consequences,” Biebl said. “Everyone who wants to ski or ride needs to purchase and have their own ticket or pass to access the mountain.”

Fines for ski pass fraud are as high as $1,000. Suspects can also end up in jail for up to 180 days, according to Vail municipal law.

Sometimes a suspect is also charged with theft if the pass was stolen, but Cureau said most cases include those who borrow ski passes from friends or relatives.

Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger said he has trouble understanding why people try to use other’s passes when season passes are so inexpensive these days. He thinks the increase in reports also has to do with the fact that more people have passes than in the past – first-time pass holders just aren’t sure of the consequences, he said.

Crime of opportunity

While ski passes aren’t typically stolen, skis and snowboards are being stolen more frequently than in recent years. Thefts are on pace to double from 2006 figures, which saw 54 thefts for the entire year. There are 80 reported ski and snowboard thefts from Jan. 1 through Dec. 3 of this year, Cureau said.

“We haven’t reached that peak holiday period where we’re probably going to see more,” Cureau said.

The police attribute the spike in thefts partly to the economy, Cureau said.

“It’s also such an easy crime to commit – so opportunistic,” Cureau said.

That’s why the police department suggests any skier or snowboarder to register their equipment with the police. That way if stolen items are ever recovered, people have a way to get them back. Once equipment is registered, skiers and riders get a sticker to put on their equipment that acts as a deterrent to thieves, Cureau said.

Henninger said if you see someone carrying several pairs of skis or several snowboards, that should draw suspicion. He said police believe there were some organized theft rings last season where multiple skis and snowboards were stolen on the same day.

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