The Washington State Senate heard a bill at the end of January that could fine skiers for entering closed areas. Much of the impetus for the bill came from Crystal Mountain Resort's ski patrol, frustrated at an increase in closed area incidents.
Senate Bill 5186, which was introduced by Senator Jim Kastama, a volunteer ski patroller at Crystal Mountain, was read Jan. 17 and sent to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Marine Waters. A hearing, which included testimony from the director of the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol and other Washington ski resort officials, took place Jan. 24.
Current laws state that skiers and snowboarders may not enter a closed run or area. The new legislation would sink financial teeth into the law by imposing fines up to $1,000 for those who enter closed areas. Ski patrol members witnessing violations would report the incident to the county sheriff to issue a citation.
"I have noticed a trend in people breaking closures at ski areas, and it's gotten worse," Paul Baugher, director of the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol, told OnTheSnow. "Last spring, we had two instances where people came in on slopes under lit explosives for avalanche control. The individual that broke closure could have been hurt as well as the patroller doing control work."
"We've got to find a way to reverse the trend," he continued. "People look at taking passes as a hand slap."
Senator Kastama's press release put the frustration into different words: "There are too many folks out there who think they're in a Warren Miller movie. They want to go places where danger is clearly a factor. It's irresponsible, it put lives at risk, and it has to stop." Kastama may see imitating movies as driving force in skiers busting into closed areas, but Baugher sees other factors, too. "I think people just have a lot of ability to discount risk," said Baugher. "The equipment is better than it used to be, and some people just think that areas are closed for reasons that don't matter to them."
Crystal Mountain is one ski resort in Washington State with several permanently closed areas, but it does open gates into backcountry areas when conditions permit. Baugher clarified the position of the ski resorts in his presentation to the committee, by saying, "We are not trying to close our boundaries."