Vermont’s Public Safety Commissioner has been talking this week with the Vermont Ski Areas Association, state troopers, ski resort officials and others about a problem they’re all concerned about – lost skiers.
In the last several weeks, Vermont State Police, ski patrollers and other first responders have had to look for 47 lost skiers and riders, 45 of them in the Killington-Pico area.
Bob Giolito is a former Killington Ski Patroller who’s now a state trooper. He says, "Whenever we have a good snow year, you’re going to have people going off the back side."
While he welcomes the growing popularity of backcountry skiing, Giolito says too many people are heading into the woods without a plan.
He points to an area on the backside of Killington where its obvious skiers have ducked under ropes and gone right past warning signs that say Out of Bounds, No Skiing Beyond This Point.
"I mean if we look out here you’ll see tracks going right into that field," says Giolito. "And if I’m looking from here, I’m like, wow, that looks like some powder, I’m going to ski that. But as they go down, the trees get closer, and tighter and tighter and then they realize they’re in a problem."
A problem, because this part of the ridgeline drops off fast and leads far away from any lifts.
Dozens of 9-1-1 calls later, the state police, tourism department and ski industry officials are trying to work together to come up with a solution.
Parker Riehle, Executive Director of the Vermont Ski Areas Associatio, says those breaking the rules are a tough market to reach. He says Killington has suggested putting full-size cut outs of state police near their ticket windows. He says the displays would include stern warnings about the dangers of skiing out of bounds. Riele says Killington officials have also talked about posting public safety personnel at some of the trouble spots on the mountain, at least during busy holiday weekends.
It’s a tough issue, he admits "We’re talking about 18-28 year old males, day-ticket purchases from out of state, so the ability to reach them and reach them convincingly – because," Riehle adds, "don’t forget they’re ignoring the signs and going under ropes as it is. It’s very difficult to get them to stop or at least do this back country skiing a lot smarter." Riele says, "that’s been the real challenge certainly in this situation for Killington and for any ski area."
Parker Riehle says he hopes a new public safety campaign aimed at this issue that the state plans to launch in the near future will also help.