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Ski resort boundaries a mixed blessing

A backcountry adventure turned drastically wrong last week when two teenage girls made a wrong turn that took them to the edge of an icy cliff on the north face of Donner Peak.

After snowboarding at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort on Wednesday, March 5, Megan Gallagher, 18, of Roseville and Samantha Lumley, 19, of Soda Springs crossed the ski resort’s boundary line to ride down to Donner Lake, according to a press release issued by the Placer County Sheriff department.

Instead of continuing east to the lake, they veered west and found themselves trapped on a cliff, said Russ Viehmann, president of the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team.



“It was a cold night,” Viehmann said. “All the snow was firmed up to very firm conditions and steep exposure. There were rocks above and below.”

One of the girls fell 100 feet below the cliff, according to the statement, but she was not injured.




In the dark and cold early-morning hours on Thursday, Search and rescue personnel and the Sugar Bowl Ski Patrol set up a rigging system to lower themselves 400 feet to rescue the two snowboarders, who were bruised up but didn’t need any medical attention, said Placer County Sheriffs Deputy Dave Hunt.

While the riders said they made a bad judgment call, according to Hunt, and lost their sense of direction, their out-of-bounds venture was within the parameters of Sugar Bowl Ski Resort’s open-boundary policy.

Maintaining a similar policy as Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, Sugar Bowl ticket holders can access a vast realm of backcountry terrain from the resort’s network of lifts – as long as conditions permit and the ski resort does not close access to the boundaries with signs and ropes.

“[Skiing out of bounds] is kind of a purist issue,” said Evan Sharbrough, a skier who has been riding at Alpine Meadows for years. “Just being in the mountains and in the snow. And the snow’s usually better, frankly.”

Whether a ski resort maintains an open boundary policy or prohibits ticket holders from crossing boundary lines is up to the individual ski resort.

And the matter often comes down to whether a resort lies on private or public property.

Whereas Northstar and Squaw Valley own the land they operate on and can therefore dictate the use of their property, Sugar Bowl and Alpine Meadows lease land from the U.S. Forest Service.

The national forests are public property, said District Ranger Joanne Robique, from the Truckee Ranger District, and the U.S. Forest Service permit directs ski resorts to promote public access to the rest of their land, encouraging an open boundary policy.

Where a Forest Service permit for a ski area differs from that of a campground, however, are the safety precautions, Robique said. Ski resorts and the U.S. Forest Service work together to determine when and where people can cross boundaries. Weather conditions, terrain and whether the property on the other side is private often governs access beyond boundaries.


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