Resort to charge 9 snowboarders to recoup rescue costs

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CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Nine snowboarders rescued unharmed on Friday night and Monday morning after authorities say they left ski resort boundaries on Sugarloaf Mountain will be charged for the costs by the resort, spokesman Ethan Austin said on Wednesday morning.

They may also lose pass privileges for putting rescuers in danger.

The resort intends to make an example of them, and from now on, will hold all skiers and boarders accountable when they fail to heed signage, he said.

“We’re going to hold people responsible for their actions if people aren’t paying attention enough to their surroundings to stay in bounds and keep themselves in an area where they can safely make it home,” Austin said.

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The cost of both rescues is still being compiled by Carrabassett Valley police Chief Scott Nichols, who is also Sugarloaf’s security director.

Agencies involved included Ski Patrol, Carrabassett Valley police, Carrabassett Valley and Kingfield fire departments, ambulances and the Maine Warden Service.

Warden Service spokeswoman Deborah Turcotte said Wednesday morning by e-mail that the service has yet to decide whether to send Sunday’s four snowboarders a bill for rescue costs.

Austin said five snowboarders went out of bounds Friday at an elevation of about 4,000 feet in the resorts fabled Backside Snowfields. They were rescued that night by Ski Patrol and Carrabassett Valley firefighters.

Another four did the same on Sunday afternoon. They were University of Maine at Farmington students Cory Koop, 18, from North Pole, Alaska, and Malachi Belluscio, 19, of Keene, N.H.; Aaron Nadeau, 15, of New Portland, and Luke Poisson, 18, of Lewiston. They were rescued on Monday morning by a much larger group of rescuers.

All nine were riding in the Backside Snowfields when they went out of bounds, Austin said.

The snowfields, which were opened for the first time this season on Jan. 18, are a wilderness experience that should only be attempted by the most skilled riders and skiers, according to reports on the resort’s Web site.

The area provides “wide open, above tree line expanses, and dramatic pitches unlike any other terrain in the East,” it states.

People who haven’t experienced the Backside are asked by the Ski Patrol to stop at the building on the summit for tips on how best to find a way down.

“The boundary is marked with orange discs that state ‘Ski Area Boundary,’” Austin said. “In certain areas these discs are used in conjunction with the orange and black closure ropes that ski patrol uses to close terrain throughout the mountain.”

“The orange is similar to a blaze orange that hunters would wear to make themselves visible to other hunters. Ski Patrol does a considerable amount of work to make sure that boundaries are well marked, and conducts checks of terrain signage in snowfield areas prior to opening it to the public.”

Since Feb. 24, more than 64 inches of snow has fallen in the summit area, Austin said.

“It’s obvious that they passed boundary signage,” he said of the nine snowboarders. “They’re saying that they didn’t see it.”

Austin acknowledged visibility at the time was low due to snowstorms, “which is why these guys are saying they didn’t see the signs. But there is ample signage up there and markings for the ski area boundaries.”

“We haven’t made any determination whether they were intentionally acting recklessly, whether they were intentionally negligent, or whether they saw these signs or said, ‘Screw it,’ and went past it. That’s not the determination that we’ve made,” Austin said.

What resort officials have decided, he said, “is that these guys — whether they intended to or not — they ended up out of bounds in a position where they couldn’t get back, and it was the result of their actions, that a lot of other people were put at risk and incurred a large amount of cost.”

“We and the CVPD decided they should be held accountable for their actions,” he said.

Sugarloaf’s Ski Patrol is still reviewing the situation and whether the resort should revoke skiing/riding privileges for the nine snowboarders.

“And that’s sort of where the determination of whether or not they were acting intentionally and recklessly would come,” he said.

Ski Patrol is also reviewing signs on the mountain and working to enhance it as needed, Austin said.

Going out of bounds despite signs and ropes warning people not to, is a “fairly common” occurrence at the resort, he said.

“There are areas where people have cut unauthorized glades and trails in the out-of-bounds areas,” Austin said. “Obviously, we don’t have any kinds of figures on it, but I imagine it is somewhat common that people duck out of the boundary area and go to these out-of-bounds areas.”

“It is actually fairly rare that people find themselves in a situation they can’t get out of, but I think it is fairly common that people ski those out-of-bounds areas,” Austin said.

That’s why resort officials are taking action now.

“Part of the reasons for taking these actions is to make it known that when you go outside of that area, you’re putting a lot of people at risk and you’re costing people money if they have to come and get you,” he added.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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