Skier rescues can be costly

Out-of-bounds searches can take a lot of time and money

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After handling two out-of-bounds ski area rescues this week, the Steamboat Ski Patrol is warning skiers and riders to be cautious about slipping through the ski area's access points.

The ski patrol made a late-day rescue Wednesday for a 35-year-old Steamboat Springs man, Justin Ricketts, who got lost after going out of bounds near the base of North St. Pat's, Ski Patrol Director John Kohnke said.

On Monday, the ski patrol was sent out about 3:10 p.m. to rescue a well-known local skier, Gabe Nicholas, who fractured his pelvic bone in the Boulder Fields, Kohnke said.

"If you are going to go out, know what you are getting into," Kohnke said. "Be prepared because to come get you could be costly and take a lot of time."

The ski area offers numerous access gates for skiers to reach the backcountry, but victims lost or injured outside the ski area's boundaries have to foot the bill for their rescue, Kohnke said. And, they run the risk of not knowing how long it will take ski patrol to reach them, which could mean spending the night in the backcountry.

Nicholas, who was featured in Skiing Magazine this winter for backcountry skiing, was in the Boulder Fields, an out-of-bounds area accessed from Pioneer Ridge. Ski patrol was called about 3:10 p.m. Monday, but could not reach Nicholas until 3:35 p.m.

From the Boulder Fields, Nicholas had to be transported to the Fish Creek parking lot and taken out by ambulance, Kohnke said.

Ricketts left the ski area's boundary about 2:50 p.m. Wednesday through an access gate at the bottom of North St. Pat's, Kohnke said. Shortly after leaving the ski area, he called ski patrol from his cell phone to say he was lost.

After a few phone calls, Kohnke said, ski patrol guessed Ricketts was at the top of Hell's Wall, which is north of the ski area's northern boundary where terrain quickly drops off and empties into the Fish Creek drainage area.

After two small ski patrol crews went out in search of Ricketts, Kohnke said a larger search party was called in at 5 p.m. At 6:20 p.m., Ricketts was found near Hell's Wall.

Concerned about unstable snow conditions, the ski patrol requested a snow cat pick the crew up as opposed to skiing down the canyon. The crew and Ricketts arrived back to the ski area about 7:22 p.m.

It was the first time Ricketts had been in the out-of-bounds area, Kohnke said, and he got lost.

Ski patroller Janet Faller said backcountry skiers and riders must have a good understanding of avalanche danger and the terrain. If not, they have no business being out there, she said.

Kohnke advised skiers and riders going out of bounds to never go alone, know where they are going and tell someone when they expect to be back.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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