KILLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — From the top of Vermont's Killington ski area, the allure of the backside of the resort's mountains is too much for some skiers and snowboarders to resist when the snow is deep. All too often, however, the trips across the resort's boundary in hopes of finding forests of untracked powder lead instead into a roadless wilderness.
In an effort to keep those skiers in bounds and avoid expensive rescue operations, Killington has opened up 745 acres of new terrain designed to give skiers the same back-country experience they'd get out-of-bounds. These trails go downhill to the base lodge instead of into the Coolidge State Forest, and trouble.
"Every season when the snow piles up, the locals go into the woods first. Once there are tracks out of bounds, the visitors will follow and some of them don't know their way around as well and that's when problems arise and they get stuck out of bounds," said Killington communications manager Michael Joseph.
So the resort created its Natural Woods, the ungroomed wooded areas between trails on Killington Peak that were opened to skiers this season as a direct result of the 15 operations mounted last year to rescue 49 individuals who skied or snowboarded off the backside of the resort and got lost.
"I think last year we kind of hit a point where something needed to be done," said Killington fire and rescue chief Gary Roth.
So far this season there haven't been any rescues at Killington. Officials say that's because of a lack of snow in the woods, not the new Natural Area. But heading into the President's Week holiday, the busiest week of the ski season, Roth, Joseph and others are holding their collective breath in the aftermath of a series of storms that have dumped copious amounts of fresh snow in the woods.
Michael Berry, president of the Colorado-based National Ski Areas Association, said Killington will find out over the next three weeks if demand for "off-piste" skiing will be satisfied by the new natural area.
Changes in ski equipment over the last several years, such as wider, shaped skis, has made it easier for people to ski in the back country. "That allows people to go places that only the absolute best used to be able to go," Berry said.
Skiing out of bounds is confronted by some western resorts, Berry said, because most are located on leased federal land and the back-country is open to the public, but it's not a major problem.