Vyto Starinskas / Staff File Photo
Snowboarder Jack Lambert, left, and skier Zack Ross, both of Vernon, N.J., call their families to tell them they are safe after getting lost at Killington Resort in early January. Nine skiers and boarders went out of bounds and were helped by police that day.
In a winter which saw police and emergency workers responding to about 50 “lost” skiers, Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, has introduced legislation which would impose fines of up to $500 for deliberately skiing out of bounds at a Vermont resort.
“There’s been a lot of it this year, especially at Killington, and it’s quite costly when we’re sending out rescue teams to find people,” Mullin said.
“Nobody goes out of bounds thinking that they’re going to get lost,” he said, “but inevitably it happens and I just think it would be helpful to have a sign that says, ‘It is a crime to ski out of bounds’ ...”
When skiers leave the marked trails at a ski resort they can become lost in the woods, especially if they’re unfamiliar with the area. Many skiers now have cellular phones and can call for help so rescue workers and police can lead them to safety.
Mullin’s district includes the Killington and Pico ski resorts. Most of the skiers who got lost this winter skied off trails at Killington.
Mullin said he wrote the bill with a maximum fine of $500 because he didn’t want people to be afraid of the fine and not call for help.
However, he said it might be time to take stronger action so skiers don’t put themselves at risk at public expense.
“We have to send a clear message that when they do this and we have to send the rescue squads in, it’s costing the taxpayers of the state of Vermont a lot of money,” he said.
Mullin said the ski resorts were not responsible for the problem.
“The ski areas are doing their best,” he said. “They’re putting up signs. They’re doing everything they can to try to warn these people not to do it, but they still do it.”
After its introduction, the bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The chairman, Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, said it was too early to tell how much support the bill would have. However, he said it has become an issue all over Vermont.
Sears said he expected to hold hearings on the bill during the week of Feb. 25. Representatives of the skiing industry, law enforcement and rescue personnel and even skiers are encouraged to offer input on the proposal, he said.
“Whose responsibility is it when (skiers) choose to do something reckless?” Sears said. “... I remember playing golf down in Florida and seeing a sign: ‘Water moccasins.’ Well, I gotta tell you, when I dropped the ball in that pond, I didn’t go looking for it.”
As written now, the bill would add language to the existing statute on unlawful trespass and make it illegal to use the “facilities of a ski area to access terrain outside the ski area’s open and designated ski trails (if) as a result, (the skier) must be rescued by a rescue organization.”
The Legislature looked at the possibility of charging skiers for their own rescues 10 years ago. But Sears said at that time police opposed the idea for fear that lost skiers would be too intimidated by the cost to ask for help.
Parker Riehle, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, said he believed the current discussionsof a fine came about because of a suggestion made by Killington staff to Vermont State Police.
Ski areas will continue to try to find ways to keep their skiers on the trail, Riehle said,but the legislation is “worth looking at.”
Mullin said he was trying to respond to the issue in a “thoughtful way that doesn’t do any harm to the (ski) industry.”
“The industry does great things for us and brings in huge revenue to the state,” he said. “It’s really the backbone of our winter economy, but I think everybody needs to come to the table and we need to figure this out.”
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