The skier, who lives in San Francisco and is a second homeowner in Telluride, was reported to have been skiing with two companions on the Bushwacker trail when he got separated from his group. A cell phone call from the lost skier to his friends revealed that he had traveled under the boundary rope, into what locals know as the Contention route, and was attempting to traverse back into the ski area bounds when he became stranded atop a high cliff band in the area below Needle Rock.
The Telluride Ski Patrol received the report of the stranded skier at approximately 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. On-duty ski patrollers Eric Larson, Eric Tanguay and Jeff Lyga volunteered to assist in the rescue (members of ski patrol are not required to assist in any out-of-bounds rescue, however), and were able to follow the skier's tracks to his location above the cliffs on the skier's left side of Contention. Following a close to 100-foot rappel down a rock face, the skier and patrollers were able to descend out of the area safely and had completed the rescue by around 5:30 p.m.
"He was basically very lucky that he was able to contact someone with his cell phone," said Tanguay, one of the patrollers on-scene. "He's also lucky that he didn't have to spend the night out there," he added, pointing out that had Search and Rescue been dispatched, it may have been too late in the day to perform a backcountry rescue from the skier's location.
Wednesday's out-of-bounds rescue follows closely on the heels of another, more difficult rescue, when local backcountry skier Brian O'Neill was caught in an avalanche in the federally closed Nellie Bowl on Sunday and sustained two broken vertebrae in his cervical spine.
A two-year loss of skiing privileges at the Telluride Ski Resort is the typical penalty for skiers caught in federally closed out-of-bounds areas, such as Contention, Reggae, and Temptation routes into Bear Creek, and they can also face other penalties and fines handed down by the Forest Service and/or San Miguel County Sheriff's Office as well. As of press time, no determination had yet been made about the penalties that will be faced by Wednesday's stranded skier.
Members of Telluride Ski Patrol urge those who legally travel outside ski area bounds, through the Backcountry Access Point above the Gold Hill lift, to familiarize themselves with the terrain and follow avalanche protocol, as well as know the consequences a backcountry rescue could entail. If you find yourself outside ski area bounds, be aware that hazards such as avalanches and un-navigable cliff bands may lurk throughout the terrain, and that rescue can be lengthy and expensive.