Charging for rescues is a highly controversial practice, and most search and rescue operations flatly state that they’d never ask or expect reimbursement for saving someone’s bacon lest people in real need hesitate to call for help. But the ski area in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, is taking a different tack: It’s using the threat of a $500 rescue tab should they ping ski patrol for assistance.

“If you don’t know, don’t go,” ski patrol director John Kohnke told the local paper, Steamboat Today.

The move has the tacit or overt approval of the Forest Service and sheriff’s office, as well as local search and rescue. Unlike some SAR organizations who’ve billed for services after egregiously stupid hijinks forced a rescue, the $500 fee is designed as a preventative warning.

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Kohnke said that that patrol handles two or three rescues a week and they tax the area’s limited resources. In one operation during the 2014-15 winter, 12 skiers got cliffed out and had to be evacuated using ropes. It took 14 responding patrollers and they were so exhausted the ski area only had one-third of its patrol force the next day.

The policy is the first of its kind in Colorado, said Melanie Mills, the head of the state’s ski area marketing group.

“I think they’re very serious about it,” Mills said. “I don’t know if we’ll see other ski areas do it, but it’s a hot topic in the industry.”

Photo by Nick Newell

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