Honor code broken
Ski, snowboard thefts have increased this year at Whiteface
WILMINGTON — There is an honor system at Whiteface Mountain Ski Center.
Every day, skiers and snowboarders leave their skis and snowboards outside the base lodge — leaned on racks, thrust into snow mounds and tipped against the building — while they warm up inside. They are scattered around out in the open and held in place by what is supposed to be a culture of mutual trust and respect.
“It feels like it’s the same any place you go,” said Marcos Ramos, a snowboarder from Maryland. “You just leave your board on the rack, and you come back and grab it.”
But for some, that trust has been betrayed by those who exploit the honor system.
Several pairs of skis have been stolen at Whiteface this season, and police said there is not much they, or Whiteface, can do to find the thief or thieves.
New skis can cost between $400 and $1,000. Snowboards start a bit lower, but can be quite expensive.
Employees at two of the ski shops in Lake Placid said they have heard of a higher number of thefts this year than in the past.
“Whiteface has always been really good at not having much theft at all,” Cory Keysor from Lake Placid Ski and Board said. “But we’ve had more reports this year than we ever have in the past.”
He said while Whiteface usually has the least theft of any resort in the area — from none to one a year — this year he has heard of four or five.
Stolen ski stats uncertain
How common are these thefts? The answer depends on who you ask.
The state Olympic Regional Development Authority runs Whiteface, and its public relations director Jon Lundin said that of the 206,000 visitors to Whiteface during the 2018-19 winter season, there were fewer than 10 reported thefts — and five of those were determined to be misplacements. He said ski and board theft is “very rare.”
State Police said they see a larger range of thefts a year, though.
“Every year we investigate a number of larcenies from Whiteface regarding ski equipment,” State Police Troop B Public Information Officer Jennifer Fleishman said. She said the State Police do not have specific numbers, as those statistics would be hard to track.
State Police Investigator Mike Perry said there’s “a lot of larcenies” at the ski area.
“A lot of them actually don’t go reported,” Perry said.
Retired State Police dispatcher Nancy Legacy, who worked from 2004 to 2016, said ski theft calls were frequent this time of year when she worked the night shift.
“Oh my gosh, it was constant,” said retired State Police dispatcher Linda Beede, who worked the day shift from 1988 to 2016. “You were lucky if you (only) got one a day.”
However, she said these were not all actually thefts. Some were insurance fraud.
She said sometimes when a skier would break a ski on the mountain, he or she would chuck the set into the woods and claim them stolen to get their homeowners insurance to pay them back for it.
She said ORDA collects a truckload of broken skis on the mountain each spring. Lundin confirmed this.
President of SKI/NY Scott Brandi said theft is, “(Not) as common as years ago but unfortunately it still happens. Snowboards seem to be more popular than skis.”
This month, a man from Boulder, Colorado, was charged with stealing 70 pairs of skis from several ski resorts, including Arapahoe Basin, after he was caught on camera. Last year, French police arrested a man who had stolen around $18,000 in ski equipment from the Les Deux Alpes resort.
In 2010, a former Whiteface Mountain employee was charged with stealing three pairs of skis from the mountain.
First trip cut short
Dan Tower, from Bangor, was ready to start skiing. With a Whiteface season pass and a brand-new pair of skis in hand, he hit the slopes for the first time Jan. 2. He skied for two hours and went to the Base Lodge for lunch.
“I had this feeling, because they’re brand-new, you know?” Tower said. “I thought, ‘Should I take them in with me to eat lunch?’ But everybody had their skis out there.”
When he came back, his skis were gone.
Tower said he was crushed, and he did not feel Whiteface staff was being helpful. He said he was not able to get loaned a pair to ski the rest of the day and that there was no useful camera footage to catch someone in the act.
When a security guard at Whiteface told him he was being “combative,” he said, “Let me tell you something, buddy. Let me see the guy that’s got my skis, and I’ll show you what combative is.”
Tower contacted State Police to investigate the missing black and blue Blizzard skis he had purchased in a bundle for $600 from Cunningham’s in Lake Placid just weeks earlier.
Investigator Perry said while there are instances in which skis are taken by mistake, he does not believe that is what happened here.
However, the police were able to find very few leads in tracking down the culprit.
Tower’s skis were left on the ski racks by the Base Lodge staircases. There are security cameras mounted over the staircase, but they are not connected to anything. The wires are clipped. Perry said they are old cameras that were never removed.
He said dummy cameras can be a deterrent. However, it is pretty obvious these cameras are not recording anything. Perry said there is another camera farther back on the lodge looking over the racks, but it is so far away that the footage from it “doesn’t help.”
Tower said the Whiteface staff he talked to believed the cameras to be operational.
“I feel that management knows that they don’t have cameras there,” Tower said. “Whiteface is literally not wanting to do anything to correct this issue.”
‘Black Crows flew away’
Kathy Curtis, a high school teacher at the Pittsford School District in the Rochester suburbs, was skiing at Whiteface over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend while her sons competed in a the “Bumps and Jumps” mogul competition. On Sunday she left her pair of Black Crows brand skis on a rack between the Base Lodge and Facelift chairlift for an hour. When she returned, her friends’ skis were there, but hers were gone. Her poles were found chucked in the snow nearby.
At first she was optimistic, thinking maybe someone took the white and green skis by accident. Now, she does not think that was so. She believes they were probably stolen.
She did not report the loss to the police. She said the employees at Whiteface were very helpful.
“They were great,” Curtis said.
She said a pair of her skis had been stolen before, at Mont Tremblant in Quebec.
“Now I tell people, ‘My Black Crows flew away at Whiteface,'” Curtis said.
With a look around the ski rack area outside the Base Lodge, only one camera is visible, high up on the lodge — excluding the two disconnected ones.
Lundin said there are nine cameras in and around the Base Lodge, but he declined to say where they are. Investigator Perry did not mention any other cameras that provided evidence of theft at the rack.
Video evidence is only so helpful in a place like a ski resort, though. Most people have their faces obscured by goggles and face masks, so identifying a suspect would be difficult.
Still, Brandi from the SKI/NY organization said ski theft numbers are down statewide in recent years because many mountains have installed cameras.
“I know of a medium-sized ski area that has over 40 cameras,” Brandi wrote in an email. “At (West Mountain Ski Resort in Queesbury) we were able to apprehend a person who stole a board using video.”
Whiteface has a security staff, too.
Worldwide, ski theft is more common.
Curtis said while operational cameras might be a deterrent, they might be a bit expensive for a state-run facility.
“Whiteface is kind of on a shoestring budget,” she said.
Operating budget aside, ORDA spent millions renovating the Whiteface Base Lodge and Bear Den Lodge in 2017 and 2018.
Most skiers talked to Monday did not expect much security from Whiteface, but they said working cameras might be nice.
“Cameras would probably would be the best option,” said Nick Isom, a snowboarder from Maryland. “So if your stuff is stolen you can go to the office and say, ‘Hey, my stuff’s gone. Roll back the cameras.'”
Well-placed cameras led to the capture of the Boulder, Colorado man earlier this year.
There are some steps people can take to protect their skis and boards. There are lockers that cost $325 for the season, or $5 lockers that can be rented on a day-by-day basis. Poles cannot be put in the day-by-day lockers.
If someone thinks their skis or board have been stolen, Lundin said to first check with the lost and found office. He said the office receives about two to three skis and snowboards a week.
Beede, the retired police dispatcher, said some skis have serial numbers on them and that State Police can log that number into a stolen items file, like a stolen car, so if someone file checks that number it would pop up. Citizens can request file checks on skis they purchase or think are suspicious.
Beede said the serial number can often be found on a purchase receipt.
Checking online resale sites like Craigslist, eBay and Facebook Marketplace may yield results, too, if people are trying to sell stolen goods there.
Linda Wild, from Toronto, said she brings a ski lock, similar to a bike lock, when she goes out, but that hers is too short to fit around the racks at Whiteface. She said some mountains have racks with built-in locks.
There is a common solution of separating skis, placing them in two different locations to deter theft.
Most skiers, though, said there is not much they do to prevent theft, and that they’ve never had a problem before.
“The key is to not have the most expensive pair of skis on the mountain,” Antonella Wild of Toronto said.
“You have to scuff up your new skis,” Andy Wild added with a laugh.
Curtis has another suggestion: Trust your gut.
She said as she came down the mountain, she wondered if she should separate her skis when she parked them. But she didn’t.
“I got a little hint from above: ‘Separate your skis, Kathy,'” Curtis said. “You have to listen to your inner voice.”