Every time snowfall turns the Green Mountain State white, skiers and snowboarders rejoice. Rescue crews just hope the phone doesn't ring.
"It's embarrassing, because I walk in the building and people say, well, you cost the state so many thousands of dollars yesterday," said Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland County.
Mullin represents Rutland County, which includes Killington resort. It's a familiar location for rescue crews, who have pulled about 50 people out of the woods this year.
"People just think that it's not going to happen to them," Mullin said, "and the rest of us have to shoulder the burden of that expense."
Friday, Mullin introduced a bill he hopes will help address the issue. Should it pass, skiers and riders that go beyond designated trails and require rescue assistance could face a trespassing charge. As currently written, the fine would amount to no more than $500.
"Really it wouldn't even begin to cover the costs of our expenses, but it would make it clear that they've done something wrong and they should contribute something toward it," Mullin said.
"There's folks who know where they're going and what they're doing, but unfortunately there's a lot of folks who don't know what they're doing," said Parker Riehle, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association.
Riehle says most of the lost skiers have been young, male, out-of-staters. Under current law, resort operators, search crews and the state police can bill those they rescue.
"The ski areas on a case-by-case basis have exercised and continue to exercise that ability," Riehle said.
Vermont State Police would not comment on the proposal Friday, but have argued against such fines and charges in the past. Their concern: those in need may not call for help.
Search totals have dropped recently, but with a holiday weekend approaching, crews will certainly be on edge.
Late Friday, Killington released this response to the bill: "Although we have not reviewed the particulars of this bill, Killington Resort supports a punitive measure of search and rescue to pay for the efforts of the State and ski resorts involved."
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