This follows a series of incidents in recent weeks in which dozens of skiers and snowboarders blatantly disregarded closures within the ski area boundaries, specifically in the area known as the Gold Hill Fans (south of the rope line that runs along the skier’s left flank of Andy’s Gold, below Gold Hill Chute 1). On Monday, members of Telluride Ski Area’s security apprehended a handful of skiers in the Gold Hill Fans area; each will lose their skiing privileges at Telluride for f a minimum of 30 days.
Telluride Ski Resort’s Snow Safety Director Craig Sterbenz said the upsurge in the patrol and security presence at the Gold Hill Fans and other temporary internal closures is in response to an increasingly out-of-control situation in regards to skiers ducking ropes. Members of ski patrol and other mountain departments have witnessed blatant disregard of these closures throughout the season and specifically during recent storm cycles, indicating the public may be developing a blasé attitude toward closures within ski area boundaries. There have even been incidents of ropes being physically cut in some places.
“The only reason there are ropes and closures is for the reason of safety,” Sterbenz said, noting that every rope is a closure – the presence, or lack thereof, of visible closed signs is immaterial. “By disrespecting ropes and closures, regardless of how insignificant you may consider them to be, you are endangering yourself, other members of the public, and ski area workers.”
As Sterbenz explained, temporary terrain closures in areas such as the Gold Hill Fans are frequently due to avalanche control work being performed nearby. That terrain is directly below slopes like Gold Hill 1 and 2, which requires explosives and other avalanche control work to be conducted on a regular basis. Controlled avalanches initiated in that upper terrain have the potential to run into the Fans, creating a significant safety concern for anyone skiing the closed terrain below.
Areas may also be temporarily closed or “on delay” because of dangerous unexploded devices (DUDS) that may detonate up to an hour after being deployed, or may simply detonate if disturbed.
When poachers are spotted in closed terrain, avalanche control work must be immediately ceased, thus causing further delays to opening terrain after a storm, Sterbenz explained.
As 38-year Telluride Ski Patroller Tom Sokolowski put it, “That terrain isn’t getting tracked up – the snow is still going to be there, whenever we open it.”
The need to increase ski patrol’s presence at the Gold Hill Fans rope line and elsewhere during closures takes patrollers away from their other duties – like performing avalanche control missions that ensure safe and timely terrain openings, Sokolowski continued.
Telluride Ski Resort Security Department Supervisor Chris Stadlbauer said that while his department is never fond of pulling ski passes, the situation at the Gold Hill Fans closure has reached a tipping point. There are different levels of closures on the Telluride Ski Resort, and thus different degrees of penalties exist for the type violation. Skiing in temporarily closed terrain such as the Gold Hills Fans could be considered a Level 2 or Level 3 violation, depending on whether or not “reckless endangerment” occurred, Stadlbauer explained. “A situation where you’re putting yourself or others at risk,” he said, is considered a more serious infraction and thus carries a heavier penalty. Penalties for skiing in temporarily closed terrain range from 30 days to two years loss of skiing privileges at Telluride Ski Resort, depending on the severity of the situation.
In addition to its penalties for boundary violations, Telluride Ski Resort also enforces policies on reckless skiing and collisions.
For skiers and snowboarders found to be skiing recklessly, a first offense will warrant a two-week revocation of ski area privileges. A second offense brings a one-year revocation and a third offense, a two-year revocation.
In the case of a collision, skiers and snowboarders found to be at fault in non-injury collisions face a 30-day revocation; at-fault collisions with an injury will face a one-year revocation, while a second-time collision warrants a five-year revocation. A person found to be at fault in a hit-and-run incident without an injury to either party will face one year's loss of skiing privileges, but if there's an injury the at-fault party won't be allowed to ski in Telluride for five years.