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In Bounds Hot

skiingoutofboundsImplementing a buddy system and staying in bounds while skiing is key to staying safe on the slopesThe recent rash of lost skiers nationwide has industry experts reinforcing ski-safety procedure, while lawmakers in one location are proposing legislation to curb dangerous “out of bounds” ventures.

On January 25, Vermont’s Killington Ski Area experienced two separate “out of bounds” skiing incidents.

The first incident occurred when a group of five skiers were reported missing at 1:55 p.m. and located two hours later by Ski Patrol, uninjured.

Almost simultaneously, an additional three skiers strayed from the mountain’s Glade Trail at 3 p.m., and after being lost for five hours, finally used a cell phone to contact authorities. Though police were unable to find an exact location using the phone’s GPS coordinates, Killington Ski Patrol found them unharmed at 2 a.m. – 11 hours after veering off-trail.

In California, five deaths were reported in the month of January, and the San Francisco Chronicle reports a total of 12 fatalities in the Western United States and Canada over that same time period.

Executive Director of the California Ski Industry Association asserts, “The accidents are happening because people are out there off the runs, doing their thing in the trees.”

Up the coast, the State of Washington reported 14 lost skiers over a 10-day span in December. Officials there say trails are clearly marked with skiers and snowboarders making a conscious effort to ignore signs and duck ropes – putting themselves in real danger.

To curtail this potentially deadly behavior, Washington State Senator Jim Kastama is proposing a $1,000 fine for any individuals caught intentionally leaving marked trails. The current punishment at most ski areas is revocation of an individuals ski pass.

Kastama, a volunteer ski patroller in his own right, is concerned not only with the lives of the skiers, but also for the rescuers risking their lives every time these incidents occur. He says the 530 lost skiers over the past five years must be limited in the future.

Other industry experts look to less punitive methods of corralling skiers, including electronic trackers, increased numbers of trail monitors and more clearly visible signage.

Roberts says the methods used may not matter so long as young people purposely ignore safety measures. “There is a mind-set among the users that just don't pay attention to that. The kids don't read the signs. The younger generation doesn't always see fit to obey the rules.”

Regardless of what methods are imposed, ski experts believe it is up to the individual to follow live-saving safety guidelines. Anyone planning to participate in back country skiing is encouraged to do so with at least two partners, bring maps and other locating materials along with informing others where they are headed.

For the general protection of all skiers, the National Ski Patrol also encourages individuals to remember the seven tenets of the “Your Responsibility” code, which aims to keep all areas of ski resorts safe:

  • Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
  • People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
  • You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.
  • Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
  • Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
  • Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
  • Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.

Ryan O'Leary

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