Breckenridge police crack down on Shock Hill skier trespassing
summit daily news
On the afternoon of Jan. 24, a cornice broke on the backside of Shock Hill above Breckenridge. A gondola passenger at Breckenridge Ski Resort saw it happen and yelled to an operator that there had been an avalanche as a car passed through the Shock Hill gondola station.
The operator called ski patrol, who called the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. Like the children’s game of telephone, the story snowballed, and soon Summit County Rescue Group was responding to a report of three confirmed burials on Shock Hill.
Emergency responders, including the Flight for Life helicopter, spent much of the next 90 minutes searching the area for signs of an avalanche that never occurred.
Officials now believe the cornice may have broken by someone skiing or snowboarding through the area, which seems to have become a popular shortcut from the gondola down into town.
As a result of the incident, Breckenridge police are launching a campaign asking skiers and snowboarders not to cut through the chutes at Shock Hill, which is apparently common practice in the area.
Shock Hill is not a high avalanche risk area, but the routes sometimes used by skiers, which spits out across the street from the City Market parking lot, cut across private property as well as Nordic ski trails, putting people using the trails in danger.
“(We will have) increased patrols throughout the day to make contact (with skiers) and educate them about the trespassing,” Breckenridge police spokeswoman Kim Green said. “Hopefully it will also prevent what happened on Sunday.”
Residents in the area told police they often see skiers and snowboarders getting off the last gondola stop and crossing through their property in the area.
Though Breckenridge police plan to have an increased presence in the area, first-time offenders likely won’t be ticketed for using the chutes.
“We’re trying to use this as an education piece right now,” Green said. “If we had repeat offenders then at some point they could be cited for trespass.”
For the rescuers, the Shock Hill incident highlighted a different problem: individuals escaping what appear to be dangerous situations and not letting officials know they got out safely.
“Our position is, just don’t waste our time and resources,” Summit County Rescue Group spokesman Jim Koegel said. “Because they’re limited.”
Koegel said the episode at Shock Hill was one of two false alarms that week, when search and rescue resources were called in to search for victims who had, it turned out, escaped unscathed.
“It’s not against the law to trigger an avalanche,” Koegel said. “If something does happen, and everybody’s OK, tell somebody.”
Between the two incidents, $1,500 was spent on emergency response and rescue resources were unavailable to respond had there been a real emergency elsewhere.
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