KINGFIELD — Four snowboarders lost overnight on the backside of Sugarloaf Mountain were rescued Monday and described as cold but safe.
“It wasn't too bad,” said Cory Koop, 18, a University of Maine at Farmington student from North Pole, Alaska, about the experience when five inches of snow fell, temperatures dropped to 22 degrees and winds reached 30 to 40 mph.
Koop and Malachi Belluscio, 19, of Keene, N.H., also a student at UMF, and Aaron Nadeau, 15, of New Portland, were brought down to the West Kingfield Road by snowmobiles early Monday afternoon, to a site approximately nine miles in from Route 27.
A fourth snowboarder, Luke Poisson, 18, of Lewiston, who was snowboarding on his own, was also lost but within shouting distance of the other three on the mountain. He was located by midmorning by Maine Warden Service game wardens who hiked him down the mountain to the West Kingfield Road.
The four were evaluated by a NorthStar ambulance crew and released. Nadeau's parents waited anxiously at the site to be reunited with their son, while Koop's roommate at UMF, Ethan Fletcher, and friends Nick Grim and Ty Hughes waited in the cold and were glad to see them return safely.
“Cory is a pretty experienced snowboarder,” Fletcher said.
After trying to hike back to the Sugarloaf boundaries, the three young men figured no one could find them in the dark and snow, Nadeau said late Monday afternoon.
“We were under a big ridge, so we built a snow cave and tried to stay warm, sleeping maybe 20 minutes every hour and a half,” he said.
Nadeau's sister is friends with the two UMF students and introduced him to them.
He was still feeling chilled and having cramps from hiking about six miles Sunday and again on Monday, he said.
Although they had snowboarded beyond Sugarloaf boundaries into a heavily forested area with steep terrain and ravines, it was no fault of their own, said Deborah Turcotte, spokeswoman for the Maine Warden Service.
“They said they followed snowboard tracks in the snow and didn't see the out-of-bounds sign,” Turcotte said.
A similar rescue took place Friday night when Sugarloaf's Ski Patrol and Carrabassett Valley firefighters went out to search for two separate parties of snowboarders, Assistant Chief Bob Carlton said. The two parties met on the mountain, and all five were found within a few hours.
Members of the Sugarloaf Ski Patrol went out Saturday morning to check the boundary lines and add more signs, said Mark Adams, who leads the patrol of about 70, many of whom are well-trained volunteers.
“We've had 50-plus inches of snow within the last four days, and with so much, they are looking for the soft powder snow,” Adams said. “Fortunately, we know where they'll usually end up — an area known as 'the point of no return.'”
It's a densely forested area with cliffs that makes it difficult to climb back up, he said. Issues have arisen at the top when people do illegal cuttings, clearing areas not on Sugarloaf property, that look like trails. Another issue: people like to steal the signs for souvenirs, he said.
The fresh snow atop the mountain is really deep and unsafe, said Carlton, who along with more than 40 ski patrol, firefighters, game wardens and police were involved in both the Friday and Monday rescues.
“The [snowboarders] go out and put themselves and others at risk,” he said.
The lost snowboarders used cell phones to call and text friends and family, starting a search about 5 p.m. Sunday. The rescuers could hear the young men Sunday night but had to suspend the search due to the low visibility, wind and snow, restarting early Monday morning, said Ethan Austin, Sugarloaf communication manager.
The young men responded to ski patrol rescuers' whistling Monday, Nadeau said. They moved toward the sound, and once they met the rescuers, they snowboarded down to a large clearing on the logging road where snowmobiles waited for them.
While Maine's Game Warden Service, by law, can charge a fine for rescues, nothing has been determined, said Turcotte, who later said persons going out of bounds are subject to losing their season passes.
“In the past, the Sugarloaf Patrol hasn't charged for rescues, but there's a lot of overtime with these rescues,” said Adams, who expected to meet with the Fire Department, police and security to discuss future fines and posting warnings about fines for rescues.
“It's very frustrating. People don't understand why the terrain is closed. If you don't know where you are, you can end up going too far,” he said.