State considers hiking ski fines to $1,000
DENVER ” Skiers and snowboarders who ignore the signs and duck the ropes to ride in closed areas of ski resorts could face a $1,000 fine under a proposal being considered by Colorado lawmakers.
The nation’s top skiing state hasn’t hiked its fines in more than 25 years and county sheriffs say they’re concerned that some snowriders aren’t deterred by the $300 ticket they can get for breaking the current law.
The change unanimously passed the House Local Government Committee on Tuesday, its first hurdle at the state Capitol.
“I believe it’s just a blatant disregard. We’ve done so much education on this that I believe people know that it is a crime,” said Summit County Sheriff John Minor, who expects to cite about 80 skiers for violations this year.
The fines only apply to skiers and snowboarders who cross into sections of ski areas that are marked as closed. It doesn’t cover those who head into backcountry public lands to ski and snowboard.
Summit County ” home of Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and Copper Mountain ski areas ” has had seven search and rescue operations for missing snowriders this year. One snowboarder spent two nights in the Jones Gulch area at Keystone and the sheriff’s office is trying to recoup the costs of that search, including $1,000 for a medical helicopter transport.
Minor said he’s concerned about how busy his county’s volunteer search and rescue team has been, helping ski patrollers by heading into areas covered by deep snow and dotted with sinkholes and downed trees. He said it affects taxpayers too because the sheriff’s office pays for the workman’s compensation insurance for the volunteers.
However, teams statewide aren’t seeing a similar trend, said Howard Paul, executive director of the Colorado Search and Rescue Board.
Rescues of skiers and snowboarders ” both in closed areas and in the backcountry ” accounted for 5 percent of missions in 2004. Hikers, meanwhile, accounted for 30 percent of that year’s 1,427 operations.
Paul said winter rescues can be more labor intensive and require volunteers who are skilled skiers and trained in avalanche danger.
“The people who are doing the searching this weekend are very frequently out doing backcountry skiing themselves the next weekend, sometimes near the same area,” he said.
The money from the fines would be split between the county and the state but none would go to search and rescue groups. However, Minor said that judges could consider waiving the fine in a first offense and requiring a violator to make a donation to a search and rescue team or the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Not all states fine skiers. In Vermont, lawsuits can be filed to recoup a ski area’s cost for rescuing a lost skier, according to the Vermont Ski Areas Association. In Utah, the state can fine missing skiers $299 but counties can add an additional fine, said Hilary Reiter of Ski Utah.
Minor doesn’t see a reason why skiers need to enter closed areas since resorts have opened up extremely steep slopes, cliffs and freestyle terrain parks to meet the demand for extreme skiing.
“A lot of ski areas have terrain parks. If someone wants an extreme experience it’s right there,” he said.
The measure is House Bill 1250.
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Friends of Colorado Avalanche Information Center has contributed to the state’s avalanche center for several years to help with forecasting for backcountry visitors. It cannot hold in-person fundraisers this year so its asking supporters to sign up for an annual membership.