Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
Snowboarder Jack Lambert, left, of Sussex, N.J., and skier Zachary Ross, of Vernon, N.J., both age 16, walk out of the Mendon woods this week after leaving a trail at Killington Resort and getting lost.
KILLINGTON — Police have said enough is enough to skiers who intentionally go off trail and need to be rescued.
Search and rescue groups, from Vermont State Police to local entities, have had their hands full this winter with out-of-state skiers who found themselves over their heads after skiing out of bounds, said state police Capt. Ray Keefe.
“This year has been ridiculous, in terms of numbers, and most of them are coming from Killington,” Keefe said Wednesday after the second 911 call in 24 hours from Killington Resort guests who deliberately left a trail and found themselves in the wilderness.
At 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, 911 dispatchers received two calls for help from Trevor Smith and Christopher Feehan, both 21, of New Jersey. Police said the two had decided to seek out untouched snow in the trees adjacent to Killington Resort. The two got lost and then separated, said Keefe, with one of them needing more than just directions back to the ski run.
“He just gave out. He wasn’t prepared mentally,” Keefe said of Smith, who got wet and began to experience confusion and fatigue, symptoms of hypothermia.
Smith reportedly lost consciousness before being rescued by Killington ski patrol around 10 p.m., more than five hours after the initial call. Both Smith and Feehan were checked out medically and released.
While nobody sustained serious injury, the cost — in terms of dollars and public safety resources — is painful, Keefe said, and it’s time to address the issue of people needing rescues due to their own negligence.
“Why should the taxpayers bear the brunt of the cost for someone else’s irresponsibility?” Keefe asked rhetorically. “It’s time to take a clear, fresh look at this, look at what other states are doing and make people responsible for their actions.”
Vermont has a law allowing civil lawsuits for rescue agencies to recover the cost of rescuing someone “who uses the facilities of a ski area to access terrain outside the open and designated ski trails.”
Those costs can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, as they did in the case of a Massachusetts teen who intentionally left a marked trail and received a bill for $25,000 for his rescue in New Hampshire in 2009. Keefe said he would prefer to see a set fine of $250 or $500.
The cost to the state is more than just financial, said state police Capt. Donald Patch, who oversees the Rutland barracks.
“It’s been a great strain on our resources, because when troopers are responding to these rescue calls, it ties them up and keeps them from other tasks, such as investigating open cases or doing preventative policing elsewhere,” Patch said.
You can blame the rash of rescues on the snow itself, which came early and heavy, said Sarah Neith, director of public affairs for the Vermont Ski Areas Association.
“When we get a lot of snow, we tend to see more of this,” she said. “They’re out hunting for fresh powder.”
Neith urged anyone looking for a backcountry experience to go on a guided tour, such as the one offered at Sugarbush Resort in Warren. “Always go with somebody who knows what they’re doing.”
Killington officials did not respond to repeated requests for an interview for this story.
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