BOISE, Idaho — More than 59 million skiers and snowboarders visited U.S. resorts during the 2020-21 season, the fifth-best winter since record-keeping began in 1978.
And as ski resorts continue to rebound from COVID-19 — nationwide they saw their lowest number of visitors in 2019-20 since 2011-12 — Ski Idaho is predicting another good season for Idaho’s mountains this winter.
Ski Magazine recently named Idaho’s Sun Valley as North America’s top ski resort for the second year in a row. Boise’s Bogus Basin recently spent more than $6 million on 52 projects, including new chairlifts, snowcats and parking lot fixes.
But along with the fun can come danger. That’s already become a reality in North Idaho, where a snowboarder was reported missing and was found dead 20 hours later at Schweizter ski area near Sandpoint.
Here’s how to stay safe on the slopes and what to do if you find yourself in trouble, from an official at the Boise area’s resort.
Do’s and don’ts for skiers
If there’s one piece of advice that experts want everyone to take to heart, it’s this: Bring along a partner for the ride.
“Ski and ride with a buddy, be together, make a plan,” said Nathan Shake, Bogus Basin’s director of mountain operations.
Shake recommended that visitors organize a meeting point with their partners ahead of time in case they get separated. He also recommends packing water and granola bars in case of an extended period of time on the slopes — or off — and keeping a charged cellphone on hand to assist in any potential search and rescue.
Shake also said that visitors should remain “inbound” when traversing both the slopes and cross-country areas of the resort. Areas that are designated inbound are well maintained by the resort and compacted by other visitors, providing a safe experience.
If skiers do venture out of bounds, indicated by roped-off areas, one of the main hazards to look out for is a tree well.
Tree wells are hidden cavities of snow that form when low-hanging branches prevent snow from forming around the base of a tree. A skier or boarder who ventures too close to a tree could find themselves falling into a well and risking immersion.
“Watch for depression in the snow or small treetops sticking out of the snow,” Shake said. “It could be a much larger tree just buried, and avoid those.”
Before even having the opportunity to encounter a tree well, however, Shake advises that anyone venturing out of bounds remain exactly where they are and call ski patrol.
Ski patrol shacks exist at both the top and bottom of mountains. The Bogus Basin number, 208-332-5350, can also be found posted around the resort.
What happens if someone gets lost?
If a visitor were to get lost on the slopes, the first course of action would be for the resort to initiate an inbound search. This includes a top-to-bottom search of the resort using information from the chairlifts and information on where the person was last seen.
“Stay in one location, and don’t move around a lot,” Shake said. “But I really stress not venturing into closed terrain and not venturing beyond the boundary ropes or boundary signs.”
If the resort’s ski patrol can’t find someone, it will contact the county sheriff, Idaho Mountain Search and Rescue, and maybe eveb the U.S. Forest Service.
Although precautions are put in place in case of a missing person, Shake said such an incident on the slopes is extremely rare.
At Bogus Basin, 78% of accidents or injuries involve beginners participating on beginner slopes. Over 350,000 skiers visited the resort during the 2020-21 season, but only 665 (0.19%) suffered any kind of injury, he said.
At the time of writing, in the 2021-22 season, Bogus Basin has seen in excess of 70,000 visitors but has had just 98 accidents or incidents (0.14%), according to Shake.