By CHRISTIAN KNIGHT
News staff writer
Brandon Backman had just returned to his Hood River home from 10 hours of ski patrolling at Mt. Hood Meadows Saturday evening when his cell phone began ringing. It was the assistant director of ski patrol Mel Toney.
“Brandon,” she said. “Someone is indeed stuck in White River Canyon. When can you get back up here?”
Backman grabbed a burger and two other patrollers at the Trillium Cafe, then raced back up the mountain to join four other patrollers in what would become a six-hour search for a 20-year-old snowboarder who had ducked beneath Meadows' southern boundary ropes and ridden into White River Canyon.
They found him at 11:50 p.m. as he was building himself shelter for the long, cold night in front of him.
“He was cold, wet and tired,” said Ryan Forbes, Meadows ski patrol director. “He made a mistake. He had no idea where he was.”
Patrollers had escorted him out of the forest by 2:05 a.m. (daylight savings time). They finished their paperwork by 4 a.m., just three hours from the beginning of their next shift and just eight hours from their second White River Canyon rescue of the weekend.
That victim was a 14-year-old snowboarder who had contacted Meadows ski patrol by cell phone from White River Canyon.
These represent two most serious incidents this week in which ski patrollers have cited or warned skiers and snowboarders – they call them poachers – who have ducked the ropes and headed out of bounds after riding the ski area’s chairlifts.
Most poachers last week dropped into White River Canyon to the south, which is always illegal; or they dropped into Heather Canyon to the north, which is sometimes illegal.
Many were young males. But some were older.
In all, Forbes estimates he and his patrollers have cited or warned at least 25 skiers or snowboarders this week alone for disregarding the ropes in pursuit of powder.
“It started when we started getting good snow,” Forbes said. “People do not understand the risk they are taking with avalanche hazard, with creeks and rivers that are open. They really don't have a clue. Hardly any of these folks have equipment for the backcountry or the knowledge to be there.”
Earlier this week, Forbes said two people dragged themselves out of Heather Canyon in a state of hypothermia.
“We are ramping up with a zero tolerance for this,” Forbes said. “We are not tolerating people blatantly disregarding the rules.”
Meadows can charge a minimum $1,000 fine anytime it has to send patrollers on an out-of-bounds rescue. Hood River County can add another $500 penalty for a violation of county ordinance 140, which bans using chairlifts to access the backcountry. Forbes said Meadows will cite the two rescuees, but did not disclose the amount.