Lost skier at Steamboat Resort finds cellphone in lift shack to call for help
February 15, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A Steamboat Springs man almost spent Thursday night at Steamboat Resort after getting lost in an out-of-bounds area near Pioneer Ridge earlier in the day.
Fortunately, he was able to hike to a lift shack, where he found a cellphone that he used to call Steamboat Ski Patrol.
Routt County Search and Rescue assisted patrollers with the rescue. Kristia Check-Hill, the incident commander for Search and Rescue, said the man had been skiing with his partner in Morningside Park on Thursday afternoon.
The two then skied North St. Pat's from the top of Mount Werner.
Check-Hill said when the man's partner descended the trail and reached the Bar UE lift at about 3 p.m., she stopped to wait for him. She eventually called him, and he said he had accidentally skied off the trail.
He got stuck in the deep snow that accumulated after this week's heavy storms.
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Ten minutes later, she called him again. The man had managed to free himself but had reached a flat clearing with no tracks or ski runs.
"That was the last conversation anyone had with him," Check-Hill said.
At that point, Check-Hill said, the woman called Ski Patrol to help locate the man. Patrollers tried to make contact with him, but his phone went straight to voicemail. They suspected his phone had died.
The man never called 911 or Ski Patrol, so officials did not get a detailed ping on his location. Check-Hill, who spoke with the man after the incident, explained that he did not consider the situation to be urgent because he was at the ski area.
"He thought he would just pop out on a run," she said. "Unfortunately, that did not happen."
Patrollers conducted a sweep of the area around Morningside Park and the Pony Express lift. They also sent a snow groomer up the Last Chance run that cuts around Morningside Park but did not see any trace of the man.
Ski Patrol contacted Search and Rescue about 5:30 p.m. to report the missing skier. Patrollers and rescue volunteers, including Check-Hill, decided that it would be best to wait until morning to conduct an additional search.
In the meantime, Check-Hill tried to track the cellphone calls the man had made to his partner earlier in the day. She coordinated with the U.S. Air Force’s cellular team to try to determine the man’s location.
"Unfortunately, with the cellphone carrier that he uses, it wasn't easy," she said.
Check-Hill explained that certain carriers offer more accurate location services in Routt County. Because the man was so close to the cellphone towers on the top of Mount Werner, the Air Force team could not get a specific triangulation from the calls.
"We had a circle that was basically the ski area," Check-Hill said.
Around 9:30 p.m., Ski Patrol received a call from the man. He had hiked to the top of the Pony Express lift and entered the lift shack, Check-Hill said. There, he found a cellphone that he used to call Ski Patrol.
Patrollers sent a snow groomer to the lift shack and transported the man to the base of the ski area. He was exhausted but unharmed, according to Check-Hill.
This incident underscores the importance of contacting emergency responders before a cellphone dies.
"Had he called Ski Patrol or 911, we could have gotten a better location," Check-Hill said.
She advised that even if people do not need an immediate rescue, calling emergency responders ahead of time makes it easier for rescuers to find them if the situation gets worse or their phone dies.
She added that by the time many people get lost in the backcountry, or on the ski resort, their cellphones are almost out of battery. Cold temperatures can quickly deplete any remaining charge.
"I know we harp on it, but it is so important to have that cellphone charged," Check-Hill said.
People can also purchase portable chargers to extend the battery life of their cellphones.