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New ski terrain at White Pass leading to more skiers getting lost out of bounds; those rescued must pay $500 fine

Post by Craig Hill / The News Tribune on Dec. 21, 2010 at 10:32 am |
December 21, 2010 11:35 am

Scott Sandsberry of the Yakima Herald-Republic reports that the new 767 acres of terrain at White Pass Ski Area has inspired skiers to find even more new terrain. As result some skiers are getting lost and need rescuing.

Here’s Sandsberry’s story:

All that new terrain on White Pass’ Paradise Basin expansion is apparently not enough for some ski area guests.

In the first 10 days Paradise Basin has been open, 14 people have gotten lost outside the boundary. Three skiers, each alone, were rescued by the White Pass Ski Patrol. Each has to pay the ski area’s well-advertised $500 rescue fee plus any incidental rescue costs. Others have made their own way to safety.

One of the rescues was east of the Basin Quad lift, on the back side of the mountain. The other two have been in the area below the Couloir Express, where they dropped down into an avalanche-prone chute backcountry skiers call the Grand Couloir.

“They don’t even know where they are,” ski patrol leader Chris Talbot said, noting that two of the rescued skiers used their cell phones to call for help. “They can’t describe how they got out (of the ski area); they’re completely clueless.

“They say things like, ‘I skied off the end of the run and got into the trees, and now I’m in some huge bowl that looks like it’s something out of (ski-film impresario) Warren Miller.’ ”
One group of six snowboarders went over the back side of the expansion area and ended up having to snowboard and hike all the way out to Clear Lake, more than seven miles away.

But, perhaps unexpectedly, the biggest out-of-bounds problems have come not from young snowboarders, or teens and 20-somethings, but from older skiers.

“The main searches, the three-hour type searches, have been people in their 40s and 50s,” White Pass manager Kevin McCarthy said.

“It has not been experienced backcountry skiers, either. (Experienced skiers) know what they’re doing, they know the terrain, they know the ski conditions before they venture off. They understand where they’re going.

“The problem we’ve had is people who go outside the boundary and then find out things aren’t going well. They think, ‘OK, I’m going to be in the trees for only about three minutes,’ and then 10 minutes later and 1,000 vertical feet lower they realize it’s not going like they expected.”

McCarthy said signs and ropes make it very easy to distinguish the ski area boundary.

“The bottom line is they’re ducking under ropes or skiing past scary boundary signs,” McCarthy said. “When we do put those up, they’ve got to pay attention to them. We do it for their own good.”

In the case of one skier who found himself in the Grand Couloir, McCarthy said, “We were very close to not sending the patrol in because there was too high an avalanche danger. You can’t put the search team in jeopardy, not knowing exactly where (the missing skiers) are.

“They can’t always count on us coming in and finding them, that’s for sure.”

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