KILLINGTON - Some 50 skiers from Killington and Pico, have gone
off the established trails in search of fresh, deep powder and
gotten lost in the woods, says Vermont State Police Capt. Ray
Keefe. Most of the 50 confirmed incidents, thus far this ski
season, have been folks from out-of-state who are not familiar with
the topography and are underprepared for the conditions.
"Killington topography is very unique in that if a guest leaves
the ski area boundary, they will not filter to a basin area or the
Killington Access Road, they are going down a different ridge line
that eventually flattens out," states Killington Resort in memo on
lost skiers. Those stuck in the backcountry flats usually face at
least a two-mile walk out to the nearest road in Mendon. Without
climbing skins, water, sufficient clothing and daylight, and a ride
back, this can be a dangerous venture.
"This year has seen an unacceptable amount of skiers, primarily
at Killington Mountain, intentionally leaving the marked trails and
eventually having to call for assistance to get out of the woods,"
wrote Keefe in a recent police report. We must find a way to
"curtail these reckless and poorly thought out acts by skiers who
are not physically/mentally prepared to deal with the harsh Vermont
winter conditions they face upon getting lost," he continued.
State police have the responsibility to lead searches; they
receive support from the resort.
"They call 9-1-1 and the ski patrol leads them back, if they
have GPS," Keefe said. "But that gives many of them a level of
comfort they wouldn't have without a phone." And not all calls end
well, with hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration and fatigue constant
threats to health and survival.
The cost begins to add up, Keefe says. Sometimes it's in the
form of overtime, but when search and rescue teams need to be
called in, it can amount to thousands of dollars. "This places a
large drain on State Police uniform and dispatch resources," he
Keefe and the state police will be meeting with resort officials
to see what more can be done to keep people safe.
Killington marketing director Sarah Thorson said the resort
would try to do more to educate skiers about staying on the
"We plan to put more signs up and post warnings on the snow
report page," she said. "We'd like skiers to be more aware and try
to go skiing with a buddy."
"We're going to take a fresh look at the situation," Keefe said.
"We're going to look at the land owners and see who has the power
to post. We could look to make it a civil offense and write a
ticket. That way, if someone from out of state says, 'I don't have
to pay this,' we can have their license suspended."
Currently, under Vermont law, it is not illegal for skiers or
riders to ski out of the ski area boundary. Skiers/riders, however,
are legally liable for all expenses of search and rescue.
Killington Resort does not presently fine or ban lost skiers/riders
from the resort, nor do they take their season pass or lift ticket
away. (However, the resort reserves the rights to change this at
Killington Resort always recommends that skiers and riders stay
within the ski area boundary. The language on their trail guides
reads: "Woods and backcountry areas beyond open and designated
trails are not maintained or checked by ski area personnel.
Killington assumes no responsibility for safety of, or injury,
death or damages to skiers or snowboarders going beyond open,
designated areas or the ski area boundary (shown by a dotted yellow
line bordering the map)."
Rescuing lost skiers out of bounds is not new, but the problem
has increased to new levels this year at Killington and Pico, and
has expanded to include many more who are unprepared for the
venture, which truly vexes authorities.
Things have been different at Okemo Mountain Resort, according
to spokeswoman Bonnie MacPherson.
"We haven't had any such incidents this year," she said. "Part
of that is the lay of the land. Between the railroad tracks and
Route 103, most can find their way back."
As it happens, the period from Jan. 19 to Jan. 27 is National
Safety Awareness Week at ski resorts across the country.
On the mountain, Killington will have Mountain Ambassadors in
bright yellow jackets which will display important safety awareness
messages. Together with ski patrollers and terrain park staff,
they'll be handing out Know the Code and Smart Style stickers and
cards. Thorson said they are always looking to find more ways
to get the message out.
"We'll continue to brainstorm ideas," she said.