Tahoe-area ski resort seeks prosecution against man who triggered avalanche (updated w/ full statements)
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the snowboarder was out of bounds at the time of the avalanche.
In fact, according to Sugar Bowl, the area in East Palisades called “Perco’s” is within the resort’s boundaries; yet, it is marked as closed. The Sun regrets the error.
NORDEN, Calif. — Authorities may seek prosecution against a man who allegedly triggered an avalanche while reportedly skiing in a closed-off area Friday at Sugar Bowl Resort at Donner Summit.
According to a Wednesday morning statement from Sugar Bowl, Christian Michael Mares triggered the slide at about 12:45 p.m. on Jan. 15 “after knowingly traversing” into an area of the East Palisades called “Perco’s,” which has not been open to the public since the 2010-11 ski season.
“The area is clearly marked as closed from both the Mt. Disney and Mt. Lincoln directions, and it is a very active avalanche area,” officials said. “As such, Mares put himself, his friends, ski patrol and the skiing public at risk.”
In a Wednesday morning interview, Mares, 29, said he was upset to read the news, and he repeatedly said there was no signage that indicated the area where he rode was closed.
“I just woke up and saw this … I haven’t even been contacted about being prosecuted,” he said. “I actually talked to Sugar Bowl the day it happened, and also (on Tuesday) that it happened, and at no point did anyone mention anything about prosecution.”
“As soon as it happened, I talked to ski patrol, just to let those guys know that I was in an avalanche, and where it happened,” Mares continued. “We only saw one sign, referring to the backside is closed at Sugar Bowl.
“No, I didn’t duck any rope — there was no ropes to be ducked.”
According to a widely circulated video on YouTube published by Heckler Media (which contains vulgar language), Mares filmed himself riding out the avalanche as it happened, apparently narrowly escaping serious injury or death.
Mares is a known action sports athlete at Lake Tahoe, and is among several athletes listed under the Tahoe-based Shreddy Times production company.
“Never at any point did I blame Sugar Bowl for what happened,” he said Wednesday. “I don’t know why they are so antsy about prosecution, but at no point did I blame Sugar Bowl.”
Mares added that after he spoke with Sugar Bowl ski patrol on Friday, “then I went on my way, and they didn’t even check if I had a pass. They didn’t check anything.”
The Friday avalanche is not connected with the search for Sugar Bowl ski instructor Carson May, 23, who has been missing since Thursday, according to the resort.
“We’ve been working very closely with the Placer County Sheriff’s Office for this entire Carson May search and rescue mission …. so when this information came in, step by step we investigated it, and we determined there was clear breakage of closure into a closed area,” a Sugar Bowl spokesperson told the Sierra Sun Wednesday morning when asked to comment on the alleged incident concerning Mares. “After speaking with the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, they took it over and they are pursuing the prosecution.”
The spokesperson deferred further comment to PCSO.
“We are investigating this case and will forward the results to the Placer County DA for possible prosecution,” PCSO Spokeswoman Dena Erwin wrote in an email to the Sun Wednesday afternoon. “He was skiing inbounds, but in an area that was closed with signs due to high avalanche danger.”
On Thursday, PCSO Lt. Troy Sander said it remains an open investigation, and he doesn’t expect it to take “that long to wrap up.”
“(Mares) did contact the sheriff’s office voluntarily, and he is cooperating with the deputies assigned to the Tahoe station,” Sander said.
On Wednesday, Mares said when he talked to Sugar Bowl ski patrol on Jan. 15, “they just wanted to make sure there was no one else involved in an avalanche.”
“I told them I was the only one, and that I didn’t want to waste their time …. because they (were searching) for Carson at the same time on the complete other side of the mountain,” he said.
“Normally, when skiers or riders choose to enter into a closed area, resort management will pull the skier’s pass for a duration of time, ban the skier for the remainder of the season or, if serious enough, for multiple seasons,” according to the Sugar Bowl statement. “However, since Mares is not a Sugar Bowl season passholder — and given the magnitude and severity of this situation, and the fact that patrol, staff and public were put at serious risk from Mares’ decisions and actions — Sugar Bowl has now turned this incident over to the Placer County Sheriff’s (Office) for prosecution.”
Sugar Bowl is pointing to California Penal Code 602(r), which refers to trespassing into a closed area of a ski resort, as the crime Mares allegedly committed.
In most cases, trespassing in California is a misdemeanor. If the DA presses charges and a conviction occurs, it could lead to penalties of up to six (6) months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.