Police say skier rescues divert time, money

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(Host) The Vermont State Police say their rescue efforts to find lost skiers are having an impact on their overtime budget and their ability to deal with other important matters. In the last two days, search teams have been called in three times to help locate skiers who left the marked boundaries of the Killington ski area.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Currently under Vermont law, ski areas and the state police have the authority to send a bill for rescue operations to skiers who knowingly decide to ski outside of the clearly marked boundaries at Vermont ski areas, but the procedure is not used very often. This could change in the near future.

Vermont State Police Captain Jim Baker urged members of the Senate Government Operations committee to expand the current law to include snowshoers, snowmobilers and hikers. Baker says the cost of rescue operations for the state police can run anywhere from several hundred dollars to over $10,000.

The issue was highlighted earlier this week when over 50 people joined search efforts on Monday night to find three different groups of skiers lost at the Killington Ski Area. Baker estimates that six search operations this winter have cost the state roughly $20,000 in overtime costs. He hopes that a system can be set up that would require lost skiers to pay these costs, if it can be shown that the skiers acted irresponsibly:

(Baker) “All we want to do is make the committee realize that this is a money pinch for us. Number two, it’s becoming a very big problem this year. And number three, people need to do something more to modify behavior.”

(Kinzel) Baker says he also wants lawmakers to realize that when the state police are called in to conduct a comprehensive search effort, it means that resources are being diverted from other important activities:

(Baker) “Now take a homicide investigation Friday night in Rutland, there were armed robberies in the northeast Kingdom over the weekend. That’s all money that we’re taking away that could be used somewhere else.”

(Kinzel) Bill Stenger, who is president of the Jay Peak Ski Area, says it’s clearly appropriate for ski areas and the state police to send bills for rescue efforts when skiers who have shown negligent behavior. But Stenger is concerned that the adoption of broader policies could hurt the state’s ski industry:

(Stenger) “I think we can appropriately publicize that and make the point and have an impact on reducing this sort of thing as much as possible, without putting the stop sign up at our state line to our guests and our vacationers who are so important to our economy.”

(Kinzel) State police officials and members of the ski industry plan to meet in the next few weeks in an effort to reach a consensus on how to deal with these issues in the future.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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