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Canada profiles out-of-bounds skiers

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — A researcher at Simon Fraser University at Burnaby, British Columbia, is trying to profile the thrill seekers who duck under resort ropes and head out into the wild country.

With at least 11 avalanche deaths involving skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers in the British Columbia backcountry during the past several weeks, ski resorts are scrambling to keep people inside their boundaries.

The province is pondering fines for those who jump the ropes and venture out of bounds.

Pascal Haegeli says understanding this thrill-seeking group is key to mitigating out-of-bounds activity.

“We’ve observed the characteristics of the out-of-bounds skiers is quite different between different resorts,” Haegeli told the Canadian Press. “And we think that we might be able to help ski resorts more specifically target their out-of-bounds crowd.”

Haegeli, who is conducting research for the Canadian Avalanche Centre, says if a resort is dealing with an out-of-bounds crowd made up largely of beginners, simply improving avalanche awareness might be the best strategy.

But resorts dealing with seasoned pros who use resort facilities just to get into the backcountry have a steeper hill to climb.

“Traditional backcountry users, one of their main motivations has been being out in nature,” Haegeli says. “Out-of-bounds skiers are more motivated with the athletic component of the sport.”

Haegeli will hit the slopes all season to interview people who head out of bounds and says that for many, being different from the rest of the regular skiing crowd is crucial.

“We’re hoping to get a better perspective on how out-of-bounds skiers actually think about risk,” he says.

Last week, three skiers and a snowboarder were banned for life from North Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain after they knowingly ventured out of bounds and entered a dangerous, avalanche-prone spot.

Rescue crews were unable to go in after them, so the four men were guided to safety by a helicopter 45 minutes after they entered the area.

The group was billed for the full cost of the search, and their names have been circulated to all ski resorts in Western Canada.

On New Year’s Day, 26-year-old Aaron Fauchon was snowboarding by himself on Whistler Mountain in an area marked out of bounds when he was killed in an avalanche.

The night before, on New Year’s Eve, 37-year-old Steven Clark died after he ventured out of bounds on Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler and was also caught by an avalanche.

Canadian Avalanche Centre officials say many people who use the backcountry, especially youths, don’t even know about the center’s forecasts, which are available for free online.