Re: Taking Responsibility…

I started to write this as a comment in response to the other comments responding to Kim’s recent post about the guy who wouldn’t cough of the dough to reimburse Crystal for his after-hours, out-of-area rescue. 

But then I thought it would be better to post as it’s own entry, hoping more folks might see it.  This will make more sense if you read Kim’s post–and all the comments–HERE.


First, thanks to (most) everyone for the supportive comments.  The incident occurred following a discouraging week for us, and it helps knowing others are on the same page with what we’re trying to do (keep people safe) so thanks!


A couple things I’d like to clarify:


Marcus ducked the ropeline marking our boundary with Mount Rainier National Park–the ONLY ropeline at Crystal Mountain that’s permissible to duck.  (We have open boundaries at Crystal Mountain, except at the Kemper’s avalanche path Permently Closed Area.) 

He then traversed south to Kemper’s, though down lower, not up in the most frequent avalanche starting zone–but still a sketchy place to be after a big snowfall.  Park rules (laws, actually) prohibit our marking closures outside our boundary.  However, our rule is that those who hike or traverse into a closed area are considered closure violators.  That means ya’ gotta pay attention to where you are and where you’re going.  Can someone get into a closed area accidently?  Possibly.  But part of outdoor ethics is taking personal responsibility to plan and prepare.  In addition to knowing where you are and where you’re going, you should have the knowledge, skill and fitness to provide for your own safety. 

(So regardless of rule-breaking that was done, what really felt low-down to us patrollers was that he waited until it was close to getting dark to go–alone!–into an area he couldn’t get himself out of, and then went back on his agreement to pay his rescuers’ after-hours wages.)

So we expect people to be self-reliant, but we know that sometimes things go wrong and we certainly feel an ethical obligation to help people in distress.   We do it all the time.  But are you willing to go into work at YOUR job and labor (for instance) all night between 2 super-strenuous days without getting paid because somebody made a poor decision and ignored your safety instructions?  Are you willing to do it every month or so?  Probably not, huh?  Yeah, neither are we, most of the time.

And if you owned a business and you went to the trouble of buying a couple thousand safety signs, but  had customers who ignored those signs and cost you a few hundred dollars every month or so, would you let them keep doing it without letting them know you expect them to share some of that extraordinary cost?  Probably not, unless you’re a chump, right?

So we bill people who make careless decisions that cost the company money, even if they do so "innocently".  That’s what "personal responsibility" is all about, and that’s why there’s rescue insurance. 


Last year, a fellow named Mark Callaghan skied outside our boundary (perfectly legal to do) and got into some trouble due to an avalanche.  (Read his story HERE.)   He called us for help and we responded.  Did he balk at paying the cost of his rescue?  Not at all.  In fact, despite having to cough up what must have been tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills, he saw fit to contribute his own, and many of his generous friends’ money toward creating educational opportunities to help others avoid the kind of predicament he stumbled into.

THAT is the kind of personal responsibility Kim talked about in her post. 


One commenter suggested that we aren’t authorized to search and rescue.  And actually, we hear that fairly often from people who have some knowledge about search and rescue protocols but aren’t involved in the complexity of it all.

Crystal Mountain is a private company that searches for, and rescues people every day.  Some of the "calls-for-help" come from inside our boundaries, and some come from outside.  Some come to us via passers-by and some from the emergency 911 system.  And we often work shoulder-to-shoulder with the Sheriff’s Office, and Forest Service and National Park law enforcement personnel on State search and rescue missions (we did it just last week!) both in and near our boundaries, as well as snowy places far from here.   

The Forest Service gives it’s permitee business, some authority to bill people who cause those businesses certain regular and extraordinary expenses.  Yeah, ski areas aren’t like the IRS–they don’t have authority to just garnish wages of people who owe money.   But like any business in Washington, Crystal Mountain has authority to charge for services and to use the civil legal system to collect on unpaid bills.  It’s a fairly common thing throughout the ski industry if you haven’t noticed.  So don’t be tryin’ to pull none-o-that "you don’t have the right" business.


Should people delay in calling us to avoid getting billed?  NEVER EVER!  

First, we WANT to help people.  We’re often able to coach lost people over the phone so they get themselves back to "civilization" without any extraordinary help from us.  Waiting until the end of the day when it starts to get dark is never a good idea.   If we get to you early before you’re in extreme distess, then it may be that only minimal help is needed and you won’t be billed at all.  You can discuss all that on the phone.


For the record, the "I’ll just wait for the Sheriff" strategy is just silly.  First, if Crystal’s resources truly aren’t used, then the rescuers will have to respond UP from highway 410 instead of using the lifts, right?.  That means plowing the road….after getting Park permission to open the gate.  Then the rescuers have to leave their regular jobs to drive up from various parts of Pierce County.  Then they gotta skin or snowshoe up from the highway to wherever the victim is.  Oh but wait, it’s getting dark and we’ve all seen on TV news how winter searches get called off at night for rescuers’ safety.  So now you’ve been out freezing overnight waiting for search and rescue folks to climb up and find you without the benefit of following tracks.  But wait, there might be avalanche hazard, so you’re also waiting for the Department of Transportation avalanche guys–who can’t do their work until daylight–to come down from someplace like Snoqualmie Pass to make sure the location is safe for searchers…….man, this is going to take a while!  Good thing the taxpayers are footin’ the bill though, right?


My point is, Ski Patrols are happy to help and have the right equipment, skill set, organizational structure, and terrain familiarity to quickly find and extricate people in steep mountainous places.  

Plan to provide for your own safety when in wild areas (cities too, right?) and be prepared for the consequences of any of your own carelessness, but please, don’t EVER hesitate to call for help!  


4 thoughts on “Re: Taking Responsibility…

  1. ed

    First off, thanks Crystal Patrol for all you do. I’ve seen your patrolers in action, and have always been impressed by the skills and abilities of the Crystal redcoats.
    Here is my only concern:
    Years ago two friends and I were touring in the Crystal valley backcountry, and one in our party had a fall that dislocated his knee and fractured his lower leg. Needless to say, he wasn’t going to ski out.
    We imediately called 911 to advise of our location, and were forwarded to Crystal Patrol. They informed us that they were able to respond, but would charge us for the rescue. “TOTALLY APPROPRIATE!”, we thought.
    The only frustrating part is that we were competant strong bc skiers,and would have been able to extricate him ourselves, but it would have been a long and painful process for our partner, possibly causing him more damage to an unstable lower limb. So we asked “Approximately what would the charge be?”
    Mind you, this was requested as a non contractual, rough estimate. I asked for “just a ballpark. Are we talking $300 or $10,000?” Patrol refused to give us any indication for what the cost could be, which made our decision more difficult than necessary.
    So, it sounds like your cost is quite reasonable (a few hundred quoted from above).
    Can you please give ANY info regarding charges that you would bill for an an out of area response? Going back to your business owner’s analogy, no service business would ever enter into a transaction without affording some sort of info on what the services could possibly cost.
    Thanks again for all you do. See you on the mountain!
    Every situation is a little different so coming up with a “menu” would be a bit of a challenge, but I get the point of your 300 vs 10,000 question. We should be able to estimate a “ball park” as you say. Remind us if you don’t hear back in a couple weeks or so.


  2. Mike in Tacoma

    First of all, heartfelt thanks to the Ski Patrol for all the great work you do.
    “… and that’s why there’s rescue insurance.”
    This is news to me. I’m not ready to go into the backcountry yet, but I hope to get there in the next two or three years. Does Crystal sell this kind of insurance, or is it through some other company? Is it sold by the season, or by the day?
    Hey Mike, I actually don’t know a whole heck of a lot about it, and no, Crystal doesn’t offer it. To avoid appearing to play favorites, let me suggest you Google (or y’know, “Bing”) “Rescue Insurance” and “Medical Evacuation Insurance”. Our pals at Airlift Northwest offer a program for helicopter transport that seems pretty inexpensive.
    A couple things you’ll want to know: Some plans are designed around travel abroad. In some of France at least, the ski patrol (le pisteurs) may work for the municipality where the lifts are. When they come to help you, you negotiate how much they’ll do for you, and they’ll bill your credit card or insurance. (“Carte Neige” is the most popular program, I believe.)
    Remember that you’re looking for MEDICAL evacuation. You may find information referring to expensive coverage for natural disasters and insurrection. I’d say,”avoid Ski Libya and save some money”! (Sorry…too soon?) Make sure your plan covers downhill/alpine skiing, and particularly skiing off-piste, as apparently some plans exclude those activities. Plans that cover equipment replacement are cool, too, so you don’t have to try to convince the pilot to retrieve your smashed-up mountain bike from the bottom of the ravine before you lift off for the hospital!
    Anybody else got suggestions?


  3. fskchun

    Good point but not all guests are as responsible. Your extensive elaboration about him not paying for your effort is well taken but came across too strongly and does not enhance the positive reputation Crystal Patrollers have.   


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s