Department of Public Safety, State Police caution against skiing out of boundaries

WATERBURY — Following incidents of lost skiers at a number of Vermont ski areas in recent weeks, the Vermont State Police and Department of Public Safety are reminding skiers about the dangers of skiing/riding out-of resort boundaries, especially during a period of extreme cold. State Police and rescue crews from the Department of Public Service have responded to 12 lost skier and riders this winter with six of them in February.

With the National Weather Service reporting a recent 3 to 4 foot accumulation of new snow, especially in southern Vermont, off-trail skiing conditions are attractive to some skiers and riders. However, at most ski areas, leaving resort boundaries is discouraged for safety reasons. Not only can a skier become lost and trapped by going off-trail, but search and rescue teams can also face dangers during the search for a lost skier. The National Weather Service is predicting temperatures in Vermont well below zero in some places this weekend, with severe wind chills. The danger associated with off-trail skiing during periods of harsh cold like those forecast for the coming days is extreme, and should be strongly considered by anyone thinking of skiing/riding off-trail this weekend, or anytime.

2/1 Killington: Two skiers off back side. Ski patrol snow-shoed in to escort them out.
2/3 Bolton: A backcountry skier had a problem with his binding and called 911 for assistance as he was having trouble moving due to very deep snow condition.
2/7 Weston: Two cross skiers left a marked trail and got lost.
2/9 Killington: A lost skier talked out of woods by ski patrol.
2/10 Woodford: Two XC skiers at Prospect Mountain in Woodford tried to take a short cut, got mired in deep snow, one broke their ski binding. Found shelter in a cabin but rescuers had a very difficult time reaching them due to deep snow conditions.
2/11 Mt. Snow: A skier lost in gladed area ended up stuck in waist deep snow, and could not move any further. Subject was hypothermic when located.

Suggestions for skiers/riders to consider:

  • Start early in the day. Allow plenty of time for your adventure.
  • Watch the weather. Temperatures are predicted to be extremely cold over the next several days, with wind chills in the -20 to -40 range at times. Some outdoor events, including the Camel’s Hump Challenge, a 13.25-mile ski trek around Camel’s Hump have already been rescheduled due to safety concerns with cold temperatures.
  • Do not ski off-trail unless: you are familiar with the area, have a map and compass, and have the appropriate clothing, food, water and equipment for the weather and environment. Including extra layers of warm clothes, headlamp, first aid kit.
  • Do not ski alone.

Deep snow, while great for skiing on slopes and groomed trails, has made it very difficult to travel through remote terrain, and challenging for rescuers to operate as well. Several skiers have ended up abandoning their skis and trying to walk through deep snow.

Vermont generally isn’t prone to avalanche, but open slopes over 30 degrees should be avoided. Places like Smuggler’s Notch for ice climbers can be potentially problematic, or steep slopes at or above tree line.  The recent fresh snow on top of a very unstable layer that was created during a rain/freeze cycle earlier this winter as well as the current cold temperatures all contribute to this increased risk.

Evan Johnson

Evan Johnson is the staff writer for Vermont Sports Magazine. The native Vermonter enjoys steep and deep skiing and wandering all over the state by Subaru. Find him on Twitter at @evanisathome.