Yet another missing skier at Killington resort. Vermont State Police say the 18-year-old man from Saratoga, N.Y., skied out of bounds Thursday, and then needed help. He was found after a 40-minute search. That's a quick rescue. Police have had dozens of rescues at Killington in the last few days, some taking several hours.
An exceptional early snowfall has kick started the season for Vermont ski resorts. Skiers and riders are hitting the slopes and some have their sights set on the trees. Whether it's the fresh snow or breathtaking views, it's easy to see the lure of the backwoods, but it's just as easy to understand the frustration search and rescue teams deal with when tasked with finding them if they get lost.
"It is like a Bermuda Triangle here. I am one of those people that got sucked down this drainage pipe about 15 years ago and got out 5 minutes before pitch black and I was scared to death," said Joe Cook of Dummerston.
Cook frequents the backwoods, but says without the right tools and working knowledge of the terrain, it's a bad choice.
"People get out here and the snow is so good and they just keep going down and down and down. Pretty soon they are a little bit too far and in over their heads," Cook said.
Killington ski area representatives say they do not know if the resort attracts more out-of-bounds skiers than other resorts, but admit the trend is becoming a problem.
"If you go out of bounds, you are going on the back side of the mountain and that is where the difference is. The other resorts will lead you back to a road or top the basin. Killington is not laid out like that," said Sarah Thorson of Killington.
As you continue out of bounds, you will see a series of signs. If you follow the last and final warning, you'll end up back at the resort. If not, that's where the trouble begins.
"After the ski area boundaries the terrain is pretty steep, but then it flattens out. That is where a lot of skiers and snowboarders call for help," Thorson said.
"They should not just go out thinking rescues are to be expected because that puts other people in danger," Cook said.
State police say they usually end up in the backside bowl, which eventually leads them out to Wheelerville Road in Mendon, nearly 4 miles from the peak.
Rescue crews say the trend is nothing new, but there's been a spike in rescue calls this year, draining resources and putting lives at risk.
"I think the frustration comes in when we stop to think about how many people willingly do this. They knowingly leave the ski area, putting themselves in danger and putting all of the rescue people in danger," Vt. State Police Capt. Donald Patch said.
Once they reach safety lost skiers face few consequences.
"We do not take away the privilege of skiing here for out of bounds riding. No, we do not," Thorson said.
And state police say it's been years since they charged for a search and rescue, even though Vermont laws allow for it.
"I would much rather not charge them and have them call 911 as soon as they are in trouble. It gives us much more time to put a plan in place and find them and rescue them without them being hurt," Patch said.
So for now, the message is when you make that turn into the woods it isn't just your life you're risking.
State police say they have a great working relationship with the resorts and plan to work with them to prevent future problems, but wouldn't say what steps are likely.
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