Closure Poaching

Monday was a great powder day.  Over a foot of snow fell overnight, and the wind and new snow kept filling in old tracks making the skiing great all day.  It was the kind of day that true powder hounds love–the upper mountain is constantly in jeopardy of going on wind hold, skiers wear neck gaitors to keep the wind driven snow out of their collars, and diehards laugh into their parkas about all their sucker friends stuck in their offices on a mid-week day. 

NWAC rated the avalanche hazard as high yesterday.  During our morning avalanche control, we saw some big results, confirming that rating.  During such a big storm, it was remarkable that we could even keep the upper mountain open.  But for some, I guess that just wasn’t good enough.

Early afternoon, a patroller saw tracks heading towards Niagras, which as with the rest of Northway, was closed yesterday (and by the way will open tomorrow for the first time since we’ve gotten all this snow).  Upon further investigation, the patroller found several poacher tracks and a large, fresh avalanche covering over them.  What, pray tell, were these guys thinking??  First of all, the skiing on Rex and Green Valley was fabulous.  Second of all, there was no need to go into the backcountry.  Third, and most importantly, Northway was closed.  Fourth, of all the areas in Northway, Niagras is one of the most avalanche prone.

Patrollers and avalanche dogs searched the debris for almost two hours.  A dog alerted on two spots that were perhaps the location of two skiers that were caught and dug themselves out before patrollers arrived on scene.  Ski tracks in the area confirmed this hypothesis.  The search continued well after sweep, and put patrollers in jeopardy. 

In preparation for opening Northway tomorrow, patrollers started avalanche control in Northway today.  Several poachers snuck under the rope lines during explosives control.  Needless to say, this is an egregious and inexcusable violation.  I, for one, am quite angry.  What are we going to have to do to get skiers and riders to respect our closures?  Do people think that we want to keep things closed?  We only close terrain when it is necessary.  And closed means closed.  Really closed.  A ropeline is a closure.  A closed disc is a closure.  A closed sign is a closure.  And if you are caught violating a closure, your pass will be taken.  No questions asked.  But perhaps it’s time we upped the ante.  Maybe violators need more of an incentive to stay within the ropelines. 

Perhaps, in this era of fat skis and fatter ski egos, people think they know more than the patrol about avalanche hazard.  Maybe "gold fever" is just rampant in a year when powder days are few and far between.  Either way, do us all a favor and just follow the rules.  There are plenty of true backcountry areas around Crystal, that if you want fresh lines and are willing to earn your turns, you can avoid the crowds and go for it.  But don’t go into closed areas within our boundaries.  It’s just not worth it.  And it really pisses us off. 


4 thoughts on “Closure Poaching

  1. Xtal Skier

    Hey Kim good post.
    I have two ideas for you. First, I would venture that 99% of your poaching issues are in short norths, from Left Angle to Oh Medows. I would suggest re-instating your old policy of opening short norths even if long north is not open. Since the new north chair opened you have to my knowledge no longer done this. Area open == no poachers.
    Secondly, and more controversial, I would suggest re-evaluating your usage of closed signs and ropes. To be clear, I am with you that closed should mean closed. However, I have seen Crystal increasingly use ropes and closed signs either ummm in silly areas or as advisories of areas of thin conditions. By over using the closed sign and ropes you devalue the importance of the closed sign. Let me explain and give some examples. Since the new Northback chair opened Crystal has added a rope line down Left Angle on skiers left. This line has two aspects that make little sense and make skiers question the value/seriousness of the closed sign. First its placed about 50 feet skiers right of a DENSE grove of trees…. leaving a perfect line or two to ski… and secondly it cuts hard right about half way down the slope, evidentally closing the best portion of the slope(this second right bending line has been improved this year i think). What this line does is say to skiers… “I have skied on this run for years… its safe… why is it closed… crystal put up a silly rope line in my way”. I imagine that the rope is to keep us off of Niagras.. FINE… move it left and make it straight. Another example of in my opinion are bad lines and closures are when you close the front side in the early conditions… This year the whole front was closed and it was blower… yes there may be rocks and yes there may be trees… but everybody riding up Rex had an opportunity to survey that and make a decision for them selves. My suggestion to you here is to either use the Yellow Caution signs or come up with a new sign perhaps like The Canyons has that is a Skull and Crossbones that says ‘You May Die’. Again, you get your point across its dangerous… we really discourage you from going here, but your closed signs have not lost their importance in the eyes of your patrons. It honestly feels like crystal has two standards for rope closures… those that are warning that you make bang up your skis and those that are warnings you may get buried. Do not devalue the close sign by overusing it.
    And a final idea would be to change your backcountry/sidecountry policy for south to require the full kit of backcountry gear. This would be a policy similar to Mt. Bakers. What this does is it re-enforces the fact that backcountry/sidecountry is dangerous and people need to use caution.
    Anyhow… hope that helps… Really trying to help.


  2. RB

    I agree with all points made by Xtal Skier, and have found the closure line across mid left angle this entire season un-warranted. I do understand the low-elevation cover this year is thin, and the state of the ho-chi trail marginal, but am at a loss to explain what purpose the closure has except to keep some clueless newbie’s bases from getting damaged. The quality of the snow just before the low-cover is so excellent that it justifies having to get around some low cover and take skis off a few hundred feet. Simply posting low cover signs would seem a better approach. This new closure-line mid-left-angle does not square with historical closure policies used during the past 25years I have skied crystal.
    Having said this, I also agree with Kim’s problem with the riders that poached in Niagaras and anyone poaching in areas that patrol is trying to control.


  3. xtl-jib

    Reinstate opening short North prior to opening the Northway chair is a great idea. I never understood holding that area until the chair fires up. Especially on day’s where it is clear that there is not enough time to do all the necessary patrol work.
    Also Southback is a big area, control work is never 100%. I’ve personally triggered slides off the various lines of the King… People are often times at risk depending what line they take. Now it seems the norm for people to push out past 3-way to Joes and beyond on a regular basis… Rather than creating the illusion that this area is controlled, I agree with Xtal Skier that Mt. Bakers policy of requiring the full kit is exactly what Crystal should do for access to be granted. Also, calling this or any area sidecountry de-emphasizes the danger of backcountry skiing.
    Xtal Skier was also referring too… Crystals rope lines and closures have slowly over the past few years lost some importance… I understand that a newbie visiting Crystal for the first time is more at risk, but a “danger” or “caution” sign should be sufficient at keeping them out of unfamiliar terrain. Closing for all (locals, regulars etc), is contributing to the poaching problem. Maybe it’s time to reconsider some of the resort policies and how the safety of the Mountain is managed?
    I wouldn’t feel right about posting this comment without saying thanks to Xtal Patrollers… without you, we wouldn’t be having this conversation and we wouldn’t be skiing the sickest resort in the PNW. So… negativity aside.. nice work.


  4. weekdayrider

    How quickly we forget… Here’s a little reminder, what I like to refer to as The Warren Miller Incident. Two weeks of frivolous closures for sole purpose of a two minutes segment in a ski flick. Now you wonder why people won’t take your closures seriously. Those closures completely undermined your authority. Ski Patrol became nothing more than glorified doormen only allowing the elitist skiers through the velvet rope all the while your paying customers where turned away. Personally I respect the closures, signs and rope lines but in the back of my mind I’m always thinking… “Why is that closed? Are they filming? Is there gonna be a contest or some event?”
    As for a remedy, enough all ready with the superficial closures. CLOSED means CLOSED.
    Kim responds: Yes we have, from time to time, kept terrain closed for a contest or to allow filming. That’s just part of the ski industry. I will defend our right to do that every time. See my past posts on this topic. Ski films and contests stoke the fire of this sport. It should make us all feel proud. I don’t like the term “superficial closures”. During the WM filming, Southback was closed only a few days. Some of those days would not have been open to the public anyways, because the filmers only used a small portion that we were able to control. One day they skied the north side of the King, while everything else was open. We don’t need to rehash the specifics, but if by keeping southback closed during that time undermined the patrol’s authority in your mind, then obviously you never had respect for patrol in the first place.


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