Ski resort, Forest Service stress safety

Ropes are put up to keep skiers, snowboarders out of unsafe areas while on the mountain

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— Snow riders looking for adventure by skiing in the backcountry at the Steamboat Ski Area should keep in mind the physical and financial risks that are involved.

This past Tuesday, Chris Dicicco of California City, Calif., allegedly disregarded a ski closure at the Steamboat Ski Area and got lost.

"He thought he was close to a lift," said Mike Lane, a ski area spokesman. "He wasn't even close."

Dicicco, who has been cited with a misdemeanor by the Routt County Sheriff's Office, had to be rescued late Tuesday night by a search crew that included members of the ski area's ski patrol and Routt County Search and Rescue.

Dicicco, 23, was reported missing at 5 p.m. by his brother but was later found by a pair of searchers before midnight in the Beaver Creek drainage area, which is southwest of the ski area.

Along with the criminal charges, authorities say they will try to have Dicicco pay for the cost of the search, which is $1,900.

State law prohibits skiers or snowboarders to enter areas of a ski resort that are closed off by ropes. Ski and Forest Service officials stress skiers should enter the backcountry through the resort's designated access points.

Even with the law, however, ski resort officials say they continue to have problems with skiers and snowboarders ducking under ropes.

"It is becoming more and more the thing to do," said Janet Faller, a snow ranger for the U.S. Forest Service. "And people don't know the danger of it."

Lane and Faller said ropes are in place to protect skiers and snowboarders.

"People don't have to endanger their lives," Faller said. "We are lucky that most situations turn out OK, but we want to minimize that."

Ski officials say the ropes are in place to keep people out of unsafe areas, such as avalanche terrain, cliffs and chairlifts with low clearance.

The closure in the area where Dicicco allegedly crossed is in place to prevent what happened to Dicicco getting lost and forcing a night search.

"The ropes are up to minimize the number of times we have to go out and look for people," Lane said of the area. "It has been a difficult area for us."

The reason the area is roped off is because it leads to numerous drainage areas south of the ski resort, Lane said.

"When someone is lost in that area, it is hard to get them out," Lane said.

The two searchers who found Dicicco had to use skis and snowshoes to reach the cold and wet man, who had dug himself into a tree well.

Dicicco, who did not suffer any injuries, arrived at the base of the resort at about 2 a.m. Wednesday.

The citation Dicicco has received is a zero-tolerance stance the Routt County Sheriff's Office has taken against skiers who ignore closures.

"When something like this happens, we are notified at the end of the day and must mobilize resources," said Undersheriff Dan Taylor. "These people put us in jeopardy, search and rescue and the ski area for the thrill of possibly skiing where no one else has. We are taking a stance that we will cite every person who does this."

The county will also attempt to get lost skiers to reimburse it for the cost of the search.

"It is costly," Taylor said. "The taxpayers should not have to absorb the cost for someone's inappropriate behavior."

The ski resort also takes disciplinary action against a skier caught in an area that has been closed off.

The first and second violations result in suspensions. A third violation results in expulsion for the season.

Officials stress skiers and snowboarders should access the backcountry at designated areas the ski area provides.

These access points give the skier the opportunity to make a conscious decision to leave the ski area boundary and enter the backcountry.

"If a skier makes the decision to leave, know where you are going, have adequate supplies and definitely let someone know where you are going," Lane said.

To reach Gary Salazar call 871-4205

or e-mail gsalazar@steamboatpilot.com

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