Vt. backcountry rescuers swamped with calls for lost skiers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. backcountry rescuers swamped with calls for lost skiers

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BOLTON, Vt. -

Deep snow and a crystal blue sky lure skiers and riders for a day of fun at Bolton Mountain, and for some that inevitably includes skiing "out of bounds."

"Sometimes you just see some fresh powder and it's just too hard not to go out there," said Matt MacDonald of New Jersey.

"I do it very cautiously and sparingly," said Brian Delanoy of New Jersey.

But for a 60-year-old Charlotte man who went out-of-bounds at Bolton last week, caution was not enough. That rescue and others like it usually begin the same way.

"We're generally notified initially by a distress call, a cellphone call from a lost skier in the backcountry. That is if they have cellphone service," said Quinn Keating of the Bolton Ski Patrol.

Between Bolton, Pico and other resorts, Vermont State Police say they've seen up to 45 rescues in the last two weeks alone. That's the busiest season they've seen in a long time.

While ski areas, including Bolton, have in the past occasionally billed individuals for their rescue, Vermont State Police and other agencies continue to be reluctant to do so, despite having a law on the books for going on 20 years.

"If there's a concern in the back of their mind that there might be a big bill waiting for them at the end of the day, that can be a disincentive for people to call for help when they really need it and that can ultimately cause worse outcomes both for the people who are lost and makes our jobs more difficult as well," said Neil Van Dyke of Stowe Mountain Rescue.

Van Dyke says even the state charging the resorts is not an option that's been on the table. Search and rescue officials say better education remains the key.

Quinn Keating: When you leave that boundary, you're truly putting yourself and the well-being of many others at risk.

Reporter Alexei Rubenstein: But if you talk to most skiers that's where the good snow is.

Quinn Keating: That's the big issue... Leaving the ski area boundary unprepared and unaware of where you're going, without a backpack with supplies or friends with you is not back country skiing that irresponsible skiing.

Van Dyke says Stowe recently put up more aggressive signage for skiers, outlining the risks of going out of bounds and they have seen a drop in rescues so far this season.

Search and rescue teams eventually found the lost Bolton skier unharmed and brought him out around midnight. But only after committing more than 35 searchers, including half a dozen state police and other valuable resources. Officials say that under other circumstances, the outcome could have easily gone another way.

"Assuming that if you get yourself into trouble, someone's going to come help you is unsafe, unpractical and irresponsible," Keating said.

In New Hampshire, state authorities have been far more aggressive in seeking compensation from backcountry skiers who get lost and need rescue. New legislation is also being introduced, proposing new fees to help the state recoup its costs.

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