Fri March 2, 2012

The High Cost of Avalanche Rescue

Authorities are seeking more funding for avalanche rescues following a rash of incidents in Colorado this season. During times of high avalanche danger, the costs of rescue can easily overwhelm county budgets.

San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters told KUSA TV this week that he thinks backcountry skiers, boarders and snowshoers should buy backcountry insurance at a minimal cost, or pay the full cost of rescue.

Masters says his search and rescue department in the avalanche-prone Telluride area has a budget of $100,000.  But with costs that can run as high as $50,000 per avalanche rescue, it’s clear that resources for the department are tight.

One agency on the other side of the state is trying to work around that problem. Mike Fink with Larimer County Search and Rescue notes that county sheriffs have the ultimate responsibility for rescues. He understands the dilemma – but believes charging people for their rescue could have unintended consequences.

“The search and rescue teams – and we’re actually a nonprofit corporation – we don’t charge for search and rescue,” he says. “The main reason that is that we don’t want people to hesitate to call us because they think they’re going to get a bill from us.”

Fink says educating people about avalanche danger, and encouraging responsible behavior in the backcountry is an ideal way to reduce the need for rescues – and the resulting expenses.

So far this season, six people have died in Colorado – and the risk is higher than it has been in several years – especially for mountains in the southwestern part of the state.

Colorado Avalanche Information Center