December 26, 2005
KEYSTONE – The Summit County Sheriff’s Office ticketed Sam Mason -the snowboarder who spent Friday night lost outside Keystone Resort’s boundary – and his two companions this weekend for ducking a rope at the mountain, said Sheriff John Minor. Rescuers found the 20-year-old snowboarder from Texas on Saturday morning in the Keystone Gulch area west of the Diamond Back trail, which is located on the backside of Dercum Mountain. He’d been lost since Friday afternoon.The group was cited for violating the Colorado Ski Safety Act, which prohibits skiers and snowboarders from entering closed areas.Mason’s rescue was the second time the Summit Rescue Group, and other rescue teams from around the state, have been summoned to locate a missing snowboarder at Keystone since the resort opened in early November.In mid-November, John Ryan, a snowboarder from Erie spent two nights in the Jones Gulch area near the Spring Dipper trail before rescuers located him. He also received a ticket for violating the Act.
Minor said the closed areas at the resort are well-marked, but that the unseasonably heavy snowfall has added an unpredictable element into the mix this year. “We have people now going into closed areas that might have gone into a closed area last year and they can’t handle it. The snow is exceptionally deep… We heard reports during this rescue that there was eight feet of snow back there,” Minor said.Ski Safety Act violations are punishable by a fine of up to $300, but Minor wants to see that amount raised to at least $500, with a portion of the funds specifically earmarked for search and rescue teams in Colorado.The Act was instituted in 1979, and the fine is outdated, Minor said.”($300) is still a significant amount of money, but this thing doesn’t hurt like it used to and it needs to hurt again,” he said.Minor also said he believes the fine should be non-negotiable.
He said he intends to work with Ski Country USA, the lawyer who helped draft the Act and state legislators on negotiations to stiffen up the fine.Dan Burnett, a local who’s been a search and rescue volunteer for 25 years, said the all-volunteer Summit Rescue Group would support a fine increase, but that the move probably wouldn’t prevent most people from skiing and snowboarding where they aren’t supposed to.”There’s a developing culture of people that disregard ski area boundaries,” Burnett said. “It’s very concerning because truly the safety of the mountain rescue people is jeopardized whenever we have to go into closed areas because they are closed for a reason. … It’s kind of a human mentality to think, that sign, that rope closure doesn’t apply to me.”Although the Summit Rescue Group doesn’t charge people when they retrieve them from the backcountry, the rescue operations are can be stressful and costly for volunteers who often leave their paying jobs to work for free on a potentially dangerous rescue mission.And the costs to the county can add up too, Minor said. The tab for a Flight For Life helicopter ride is about $1,000, which comes on top of food and fuel costs for emergency responders. Plus there are indirect expenses, such as ski areas diverting ski patrollers to help with a rescue operation, as Keystone did this weekend, Minor said.
“I feel sometimes like the taxpayers of Summit County are subsidizing somebody’s foolishness and I don’t like that,” Minor said.Minor said he doesn’t know yet if the Sheriff’s Office will ask either the Mason group or Ryan to pay restitution for the costs incurred from their respective rescues, and that the decision will depend on the final bills for the missions.Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 13625, or at firstname.lastname@example.org