The young boy's lip was quivering. He politely asked, "Can you please call Ski Patrol?" I was in the gondola building at Steamboat, talking to the ticket checkers when 12-year-old Ethan walked up, evidently upset. He was lost.
The staff immediately stopped what they were doing to talk to him, and called Ski Patrol Dispatch. They asked his name. When told it was Ethan, the dispatcher said, "Tell Ethan we've been looking for him." You could see the relief on Ethan's face.
Ethan, from St. Louis, had taken a wrong turn from his family and ended up at the base area. He was lost and confused. Within minutes, a ski patroller walked into the building and asked Ethan, "Have you ever been on a snowmobile before?" Ethan's face lit up and he said no. The patroller took him outside, loaded him up, and delivered him to his family, nervously waiting on the mountain.
Ski areas have plans and procedures for missing persons, whether an adult or a child. Arapahoe Basin's Leigh Heirholzer says the first thing they do is take the information from the parent, and announce that information to all staff that has a radio. "At least one of the parents or guardians stays in the First Aid Room at the base of the mountain to keep contact with what is going on with the Ski Patrol until we find the child."
Sun Valley is the same. Ski Patrol Director Mike Lloyd says, "We secure the witness and reporting parties, which is most likely the parents. It's very important to gather all of the information for the people that are involved."
Notification is then sent out to everyone on the mountain, which is about 60 people with radios at Sun Valley. This includes Ski Patrol, Ski School, Guest Services, lift mechanics, lift electricians, and even the groomers. Everyone is on alert. The local sheriff's department and police also can be called.
Mountain Rides is the free, local bus service in Sun Valley. "We let them know that we're looking for a particular missing person or persons."
Ski Patrol determines where the person was last seen. If it is on Mount Baldy, it helps to pinpoint which side to concentrate the search. Dispatch helps send people to where they think they need them.
Jack Sibbach also works for Sun Valley. He said, "99 percent of the time a missing person just skied down the wrong side of the mountain, got on a bus, and went to the other side or to their place of lodging."
Patrick O'Sullivan is A-Basin's Ski Patrol Director. He says, "Usually it's the parents that are lost and not the kids. Everyone should have a meeting place set out when the day begins. Put identification on your child. We ask the parent to stick around so that we only have one lost party. It's important for them to stay in one place. We'll send out a radio announcement of the child's description and post it at the bottom of each lift. Usually it doesn't take long to find the child."
Jennifer Ekstrom at Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Idaho also says they notify everyone, via two-way radios, snowmobiles, and signboards at the top and bottom of the lifts. "All of our staff would be notified to keep an eye out. We could utilize our PA system in the village, and sign boards as well. If it were near the end of the day and the child had not been located, the sheriff would be notified and a search and rescue team would get involved."
Ekstrom adds, "Luckily, Schweitzer is fairly ‘kid friendly.' Most trails on the mountain funnel to one of two places, either Schweitzer Village or the Outback Inn. Parents have commented about the village being an easy place to navigate and keep track of children."
Make sure they have emergency contact information in their pocket or attached to their ski pass, if your kids are little. You could even give some kids a cell phone.
Ski resorts do their very best to keep everyone safe and happy. Improved communications make it even easier. Ethan, however, did the right thing by finding an adult, or a mountain employee, and asking to contact Ski Patrol. Another thing I've heard is that if kids are ever scared or in danger, find a mom and ask for help. A mom will always take care of a crying child, especially if they are lost. It's in our nature.