Dangers Of Getting Untracked When Skiers Look For Fresh Powder, They Usually Encounter Only Trouble

December 13, 1996 - Updated: July 16, 9:52 p.m.

Gary Deaver, 49 Degrees North ski patrol director, admits there was a time when he was “the worst rope jumper there was.”

With his pals, he’d regularly slide outside ski area boundaries for a few turns in the powder. But after 13 years of late-night searches and treating lost people for hypothermia at the Chewelah resort, he’s seen the light.

“I care about my guys,” Deaver said. “When they are out there in the dark at 1 a.m. looking for somebody, that annoys me.”

The heavens are bursting this year with the most early season snow in memory - hydrologists say there’s 260 percent more snow in the mountains than average this time of year. Resort officials say the temptation is greater than ever to poach untracked snow outside ski-area boundaries.

But with plenty of “off-piste” skiing - glades or bowls spared the cruelty of a groomer - already located within ski-area borders, there’s no reason to risk your life for a few measly, illegal turns.

“Given the amount of snow we’ve had, you can pretty much get fresh snow every day of the week, even on the groomed runs,” said Schweitzer Mountain manager Tom Trulock. “It’s kind of endless.”

So much early season snow has created an interesting dilemma for resorts. Sure, the powder is great. But it’s come so quickly that a firm base hasn’t set up, Trulock said. When people leave marked ski areas and inevitably reach level ground where they need to walk out, it’s impossible to wade through 4 feet of snow.

Last week, a pair of skiers at Schweitzer - a telemarker and a snowboarder greedy for illicit turns - were found well after dark by search-and-rescue teams. Luckily, both were alive.

“We have so many people going out the backside of the mountain, the odds of something tragic happening are greatly increased,” Trulock said.

Bob Bates, ski school director at the Mt. Spokane Ski Area, knows the temptation beyond the ropes by its proper name. The “pow.”

He’s felt it himself.

Take the treed glades left of the - er, well, one of those cat tracks over there, Bates says, not wanting to encourage skiers or boarders already bent on finding off-limits stashes.

“There’s some good stuff over there,” he said. “But one of the problems is people end up in the wrong town.”

Last year, crews at Silver Mountain searched three days before finding a 16-year-old novice skier who had strayed innocently from marked slopes. The reality, however, is most skiers and riders who go out-of-bounds do it intentionally.

The attraction to untracked snow, says Coeur d’Alene skier Chic Berge, isn’t unlike the attraction toward sex or drugs.

“It’s an addiction,” Berge says. “The big thing is, people who are skiing just lift-serviced runs don’t have the essentials - clothing, maps, a compass, fire starter, or food - or the knowledge to come out alive.”

Berge teaches a backcountry safety course at North Idaho College. A veteran ski tourist, he knows the risks of going out-of-bounds as well as anybody.

“As soon as these skiers get wet, they get hypothermic and they die,” Berge said. “Mother Nature kicks butt.”

Ski areas are likely to kick butt, too, when they catch offenders. Folks who have left boundaries behind and end up wandering after dark must pay for expensive search-and-rescue operations. 49 Degrees North’s Deaver says if you get caught poaching a second time, he’ll pull your pass. Expect the same treatment at Mount Spokane, Schweitzer and Silver.

David Kilmer, a Silver Mountain spokesperson, says forget the lift ticket. You could lose a lot more than that, he says.

“You could lose your fingers or your toes or even your life,” Kilmer said.

“I think a lot of people underestimate the power of nature.”

Or maybe the powder of nature.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: LEGAL OFF-PISTE At the risk of offending territorial locals, there’s plenty of off-piste inside the boundaries of local ski areas.

49 Degrees North: Try the recently thinned trees of Cy’s Run on Chair 4. Boot Hill - called “Disneyland” by the kids - is on the skier’s left from Silver Ridge, and Blast Furnace, just a little farther down the ridge, funnels into the old East Basin. Mount Spokane: Hang long enough in the glades of Central Meadows and you’ll emerge on Jump Run, the steepest pitch on the mountain in full view of Chair 1. Chair 4 has great trees, including interesting little shots off Exterminator and Geronimo. Silver Mountain: The North Glade trees, on skier’s left from Chair 2, are excellent. A traverse from Chair 4 (the old Jackass chair) opens up a world of fresh on Wardiner Peak. Schweitzer: Siberia and Hellhole in the North Bowl are nice choices, accessed by Chair 4 or the quad when it opens Dec. 15. On the front side, the Chutes in the South Bowl are interesting as well, manager Trulock says.

Backcountry safety clinic A free backcountry safety clinic is set for Jan. 23 in the Bonner Room in North Idaho College’s Student Union Building from 6-10 p.m.

This sidebar appeared with the story: LEGAL OFF-PISTE At the risk of offending territorial locals, there’s plenty of off-piste inside the boundaries of local ski areas.

49 Degrees North: Try the recently thinned trees of Cy’s Run on Chair 4. Boot Hill - called “Disneyland” by the kids - is on the skier’s left from Silver Ridge, and Blast Furnace, just a little farther down the ridge, funnels into the old East Basin. Mount Spokane: Hang long enough in the glades of Central Meadows and you’ll emerge on Jump Run, the steepest pitch on the mountain in full view of Chair 1. Chair 4 has great trees, including interesting little shots off Exterminator and Geronimo. Silver Mountain: The North Glade trees, on skier’s left from Chair 2, are excellent. A traverse from Chair 4 (the old Jackass chair) opens up a world of fresh on Wardiner Peak. Schweitzer: Siberia and Hellhole in the North Bowl are nice choices, accessed by Chair 4 or the quad when it opens Dec. 15. On the front side, the Chutes in the South Bowl are interesting as well, manager Trulock says.

Backcountry safety clinic A free backcountry safety clinic is set for Jan. 23 in the Bonner Room in North Idaho College’s Student Union Building from 6-10 p.m.


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