Steamboat resort in Colorado now imposes a $500 per person fine for individuals rescued out of the surrounding backcountry by Steamboat Ski Patrol staff. In the recent years, backcountry enthusiasts have become almost the norm to many resorts with backcountry access gates or open boundary policies. Since Steamboat is required by the U.S. Forest Service to have out-of-bounds access gates it made sense to create this fine.
Kohnke said at the beginning of his 40-year career, perhaps 20 people would go through the gates each day. These days, he said, the number might be closer to 500.
–John Kohnke, Steamboat Ski Patrol Director
The main goal behind the fine was not for Steamboat to make money or compensate their staff, although it definitely will help, but hopefully it will deter the less educated backcountry user. People who “know before they go” tend to be aware of the potential hazards of the backcountry and the costs it may incur. Those who are not educated and unprepared for backcountry safety or travel should be deterred by the fine and should tend to stay in bounds, or at least that’s the hope.
The good news is that Search and Rescue services provided by Routt County remain free of charge. The state of Colorado feels that charging for their Search and Rescue organization could deter people from calling for help, even if they really need it. However, the ski patrol staff at Steamboat are also the closest and most well equipped for rescues that happen just outside their boundary lines. It is much easier and quicker to perform a rescue when accessing a group from the top than it would be for Search and Rescue teams to hike up to the location from the bottom.
The Routt County Search and Rescue as well as the U.S. Forest Service were all on board with the penalty for rescues by Steamboat and very understanding of the resorts situation. Hopefully, only those properly prepared for the backcountry will be exiting the gates now.