Winter is finally officially upon us, and the ski season is in full swing at last. Many of the country’s top resorts have been opening over the past month, and they’re all dealing with the usual hiccups of launching a new season, including handling crowds on the lifts, making sure all of their equipment is running efficiently, and watching the skies for snow. But one resort in Washington has had to deal with a completely different issue, with 14 skiers getting lost out of bounds in just the first ten days of operations.
On Saturday, December 4th, Washington state’s White Pass Ski Resort opened for the season, unveiling a highly anticipated expansion to their property known as Paradise Basin. The new expansion doubled the size of the resort and delivered new lifts, a day lodge, and a slew of new runs as well. But what the management team didn’t anticipate was the number of lost skiers the new area would generate.
While most of the 14 skiers who became lost have managed to find their way back on property without calling in the ski patrol. For instance, one group of six snowboarders went the wrong direction, and ended up having to hike more than seven miles just to get out of the surrounding wilderness, but they did eventually find their way home. Three of the lost skiers did have to be rescued however, which set them back $500 each to cover the expenses.
According to White Pass manager Kevin McCarthy, it hasn’t been the younger, more reckless skiers and snowboarders who have been the biggest problem. Instead, it has been the 40 and 50 year olds who wander too far out of bounds, resulting in three to four hour searches to find them. In the case of one person, even the rescue squads were reluctant to go in to find him because of the high risk of avalanches in the area that he wandered into.
White Pass officials say that signs and ropes are used to clearly distinguish where the resort begins and ends, but in the case of most of these lost skiers, they are simply ducking under those ropes or ignoring the signs altogether. Once they are out of bounds, the endless snow slopes and dense trees can make it difficult to get your bearings, which leads to confusion and disorientation. This has often been the case with these lost skiers.
Fortunately, so far no one has been seriously injured or has died, but 14 lost skiers in such a short time span is a cause for concern. Perhaps they should start tagging every skier with a GPS tracking device as soon as they arrive. It sure would make them easier to find. One thing is for sure, the ski patrol is earning its wages so far this season.