Once skiers unlawfully exit the ski area boundary, however, enforcement of trespass laws falls under the wing of the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office.
County Sheriff Bill Masters has been a part of the Bear Creek access debate since the beginning. He was, after all, a major voice in the initial move to close access to the area in 1987. Masters spoke with The Watch about the Forest Service’s recent closure of access points into Upper Bear Creek, and how his office planned to handle trespassing on private property there.
You are credited for calling for the late 1980s closure of the ski area boundary into Bear Creek, following the string of avalanche-related fatalities there. What were the issues then, and how do they compare to the issues now?
Recommending the closing of Bear Creek in the 80s, even with all the deaths, was a mistake. It never stopped people from skiing it. Enforcement efforts were made by the USFS and the Sheriff’s Office, which proved to be dangerous to the USFS, the Sheriff’s Office and the skiers, as a dangerous cat-and-mouse game was the result. At one point two skiers were maced by a Forest Service Officer (he stated he was threatened by their ski poles). The decision was made to close based on the nanny state idea that we needed to protect skiers from themselves, which as a later Libertarian I found to be poor tactic and policy.
Unfortunately, the opening of the area is difficult, also, as 99 percent of the skiers are Telski customers who use the lifts to access an area with no Ski Patrol services. The Sheriff’s Office and Search and Rescue may not have the resources to rescue Telski customers in Bear Creek.
How will the closure be enforced? Who will be responsible for overseeing the closure?
We will have little if anything to do with the enforcement of the closure. Sheriff’s Office personnel cannot go skiing on the mountain without paying for lift tickets; we do not have the staff to enforce the closure; and despite it being a possible violation of the Colorado Ski Safety Act, I am not inclined to enforce the closure (my elected office allows me that discretion).
Persons who trespass on private lands may be cited for that violation, if the landowner posts the land, erects fences designed to exclude intruders (chain link and barbed wire) and has identified a specific individual he has witnessed trespassing on his property. The Sheriff’s Office does not patrol or protect private property from trespassers; that is the responsibility of the landowner.
– Interview conducted by Martinique Davis