SUMMIT COUNTY " In early December, two young snowboarders ducked under the ropes at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area to hit some fresh snow on a run that had been marked closed.
What the pair didn't know is that there were live explosives under the snow, ready to be deployed for preventative avalanche blasting.
"We manage our risk by opening and closing terrain when it's appropriate," said Leif Eric Borgeson, snow-safety supervisor at Arapahoe Basin. "Imagine the guilt that patroller would have felt if those had been set off. If runs are closed, there is usually a good reason for it."
The boys, who claimed that the closed run was not clearly marked, were met by a ski patroller at the base of the hill and escorted to the ski-patrol office, where they were cited for violating the Colorado Ski Safety Act.
Given they were courteous and apologetic, the boys lost their passes for only two weeks. But the penalty could have been worse.
"The penalty for a violation is conditional and usually depends on the skiers demeanor," Borgeson. "It can range anywhere from two weeks to being done for the season."
The Ski Safety Act became a Colorado law in 1979, and it places the responsibilities on both the skier and the ski area to be cognizant of the inherent risks of being on the mountain.
The original act cited dangers such as collisions with other skiers or objects and changing weather conditions, and in 2004 the law was amended to include cliffs, extreme terrain, jumps and freestyle terrain.
So far this season, three skiers have been cited locally for violating the act, which is about the same number of citations written at this time last year, according to Summit County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Paulette Horr.
"But not everyone that gets caught actually gets reported to us," Horr added.
The law applies to every person on the mountain, whether they ride the lifts or not, including snowshoers and skinners, according to Borgeson.
"In today's world, people are all geared up to ski the backcountry, and they are looking for that adventure in the ski area, as well," Borgeson said. "Regardless if you have the right gear, it's not OK to access closed terrain."
In addition to pulling passes, law enforcement may fine those caught violating the act and in 2006, maximum penalty fines were increased to $1,000, a substantial increase from the $300 maximum set in 1979.
But for many dire-hard mountain addicts, a pulled season pass can be the worst penalty imaginable.
"The last thing we want to do is turn away customers," Borgeson said. "But we can't accept behavior that puts the skier, other skiers, or the mountain at risk."
Ashley Dickson can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.