Riding slopes in closed areas could mean legal liability in addition to avalanche dangers

Posted at 8:34 PM, Jan 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-21 23:18:23-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A snowboarder caught in an avalanche caught it all on video, but he could now face criminal charges because he reportedly trespassed onto land closed to the public near a California ski resort.

The video may be posted in California, but Utah ski resorts like Brighton said it brings up an important reminder, and a warning, of the consequences for crossing into closed territory.

On Thursday, Brighton skiers and snowboarders enjoyed a bluebird day. But just the day before, conditions were the complete opposite.

Max McNeal, Assistant Ski Patrol Director with Brighton, said they battled a lot of snowfall, and high winds.

Pair that with a high avalanche danger, and they had their work cut out for them.

"We can't keep up with the avalanche hazard," he said.

When it gets out-of-control and they can't complete avalanche mitigation on all slopes, they shut some areas down.

That's what happened with the Milly area on Wednesday.

"We just close the gates all the way down, and we pull our rope all the way down," he explained.

The area is well-marked as closed, he said, but that doesn't always stop some people from carving turns down that slope.

"When we do close this, almost every time we close it, we do have someone breaking that closure," he said.

In fact, he said they almost came across that on Wednesday, when some people brushed through the brink of the boundary.

"If you're in the ski community, you're going to have your set of people that do [go past the boundary]," said skier Harlan Wheeler.

He and his friend Braxton Roberts said they know people who've disregarded the signs and skied down the forbidden slopes.

Roberts said it's, "the want to get the fresh tracks when no one's going there."

Wheeler agreed.

"It's for the thrill," he said. "They see something they want, and it's an adrenaline rush."

But is it really worth it?

The snowboarder caught in the avalanche in California is finding that out now, after the California ski resort opened an investigation that could include criminal prosecution.

Brighton is no different.

McNeal said not only do they ban the offender from the slopes--sometimes for the rest of the season-- they also call the Unified Police Department.

"It's a misdemeanor citation, and you will be fined, have to go see a judge," he said.

The fine can shoot up to $1,000, and McNeal said the person can see jail time of up to six months.

He said the repercussions help keep skiers at their resort out of harm's way.

And if anyone has questions as to what's game territory, he said they're always happy to point out what slopes skiers can safely take.