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Bridger Bowl Ski Patrol: life-threatening conditions lie just beyond ski area boundaries

By Grace Ditzler, KTVM Reporter, gditzler@ktvm.com
Published On: Dec 22 2013 06:01:42 PM MST
Updated On: Dec 22 2013 06:20:59 PM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Two skiers were injured in a skier triggered avalanche just outside of the Bridger Bowl ski area Saturday afternoon.

Two MSU students went out of bounds while there was high avalanche danger.
 
Both suffered injuries; the female broke her leg, and as of Sunday afternoon was still in the hospital.

Bridger Bowl's Ski Patrol Director Doug Richmond said there are lines at ski areas you don't want to cross.

"There are plenty of people that don't realize it's a life threatening decision they make if they decide they want to go past the boundary and ski in avalanche terrain," Richmond said.

And these life threatening dangers lie just beyond the park boundaries.

Richmond explained the Ski Patrol spends more than $100,000 each ski season maintaining the designating ski area, and spend no money maintaining any areas outside the park boundaries.

"The big difference at the boundary--and it's not necessarily visible, it's the same mountain range, looks like the same snow--but the big difference is the avalanche mitigation work that goes on a daily basis," Richmond said. "So everyday, the Ski Patrol makes lots of little boring avalanches constantly trying to keep up with the problem and keeping it safe enough for skiers to be out there."

But people leave the ski area anyway.

Skiers hike past the boundary limits, and even though the environment looks the same, less than a quarter-mile outside the boundaries, you're in high avalanche danger.

"At the boundary, it stops," he said. "The work that we do stops, and beyond that boundary there can be several storms worth of build up, much deeper snow in the starting zones, much more unstable conditions, than you see up to the boundary."

Richmond explained another risk is Ski Patrol isn't responsible for rescues out of their boundaries. The local Sheriff's department responds from Bozeman, making the time waiting for rescue much longer, and much more dangerous.

"People need to understand that if they do have a problem and they're in the back country, which includes the back country very close to Bridger Bowl, they're to a large extent on their own," Richmond said.

Richmond encourages back country skiers to become educated on avalanche safety, but his best advice: just don't leave the designated ski area.

The Bridger Bowl Ski Patrol gave NBC Montana tips on staying safe in high avalanche danger conditions:

1. Stay in ski area boundaries that have been deemed safe.

2. Avoid closures within the ski area. These areas have been determined unsafe.

3. The more snow there is, the more likely an avalanche will happen.

4. Any drastic changes in weather, like snow storms, increase the likelihood of an avalanche.

For more information about current avalanche conditions, visit http://www.mtavalanche.com/