Snowboard, ski thefts dampen winter fun
October 2, 2008 · Updated 2:18 PM
SNOQUALMIE PASS - Picture this: You're cruising down the slopes on your brand new $600 snowboard, having a good time. You decide to stop for a hot chocolate, and leave your board - just for a minute - up against the lodge railing, because after all, isn't there a code of ethics among boarders and skiers not to steal?
But when you return, literally three minutes later, your board is gone. And the day is ruined.
This scenario happens to more than a hundred snowboarders and skiers each winter at Snoqualmie Pass and other ski areas. Having your equipment stolen means a loss of $300 to $1,000 - the cost of a board or skis - loss of slope time and inconveniences your day by having to take time to report the theft. If you rented a board and it's stolen, you lose the $300 deposit.
The unfortunate part of the story is that this type of theft is preventable.
This season, board and ski theft is about average at the Pass, but security officials say even average is too much.
"We wish people would be more careful with their boards, but at the same time, we can't make them," said Kent Verbeck, security supervisor for The Summit at Snoqualmie. "It's no fun when your board's stolen. At the minimum, it's a hassle.
"There's almost no place else people would go and lay $500 items down, and that's partly the problem," he added. "If you can imagine thousands of people going to Southcenter [Mall] and each laying a $500 stereo down, you'd imagine that a few would go missing."
According to the King County Sheriff's Office North Bend substation, 36 cases of snowboard theft and three of ski theft were reported at Snoqualmie Pass between Dec. 1, 2000, and Feb. 1. This number only represents half of the big picture, because King County handles theft reports for The Summit's West operations and Alpental, while Kittitas County handles The Summit's Central and East areas.
So why are so many boards stolen? Verbeck said there's simply a market for them, and it's probably not at pawn shops. Pawn shops, according to the King County Sheriff's Office, are required to keep serial numbers for items they receive, which are then run through a tracking system to detect theft. The boards are most likely being sold between friends, Verbeck said.
"If someone's offering you a deal that seems too good to be true, then it could be stolen," he said. "So you need to make sure you buy it from someone you know."
When a stolen snowboard is found, it's taken away for evidence, regardless of whether the new owner believes it was a legitimate purchase.
There is no predictable face to a snowboard thief, Verbeck said. They're not always teen-agers, in fact many adults have been caught red-handed with a board or two. Since there is no particular type of person to watch for, preventative measures are the best way to keep equipment safe.
Verbeck said the ski-area staff has been trained to watch for theft, but there's no way to watch 200 snowboards at once, which is the amount that can accumulate outside the lodge during lunchtime on a Saturday. Another reason snowboard nappers are difficult to detect is because there's no way of telling who rightfully owns the equipment that they walk up and take.
"It's a problem, and we keep trying to find ways to reduce it, but the best way is securing your equipment," said Verbeck, who has worked at the Pass since 1978. He added that theft is not a new problem, it has occurred the entire time he's worked there. He added since ski areas are not liable for stolen items, people need to take responsibility for their equipment.
There are several options for securing equipment, including locks and ski-check areas. At the Pass, there is a rack and lock system called Ski Key, for which locks can be purchased at $14.95. The locks are for sale at ski-area gift shops, and they fit into special racks to secure snowboards and skis at Snoqualmie Pass. Ski Key customers can also go online at www.skikey.com to find out what other ski areas use the racks.
A snowboard lock also exists that doesn't have to be used with any one type of rack. This lock can be purchased at sporting-goods stores for as little as $14.99, and can be used on any ski rack, or even on trees. DaKine and K2 are two of the most popular, according to a Mount Si Board and Skate in North Bend.
"Buy the lock, buy the lock, buy the lock. I can't explain it enough," said Robin Roettger, owner of the Mount Si Board and Skate stores in North Bend and Monroe. Roettger said during every snowboard sale, her staff educates customers about theft and protecting their investment.
"[The lock is] so small you can fit it in your pocket," she said. "We just wish more people would listen and buy them."
Besides locks, most ski areas offer some type of ski-check area. At The Summit at Snoqualmie, a business called Stor-A-Ski will watch your board, skis or bag for a minimal fee. For a cost of $2 for one time, $3 per day or $50 for a season, Stor-A-Ski employees will watch the equipment in a roped-off area. Bags can also be checked for a $2 fee.
Verbeck said the majority of snowboarders and skiers do not lock or check their equipment.
"It's a couple of dollars, but for some reason, people don't want to spend it," he said, adding that during lunchtime, the unsecured ski racks are filled, and skis and snowboards line the outside walls of the lodge and concessions building. The ski area has to provide unsecured racks, he said, because if it didn't, boards and skis would lay on the ground and be a hazard.
Another way to prevent theft is to keep your eyes out, explained Josh Jorgensen, rental and retail manager and West Base operations manager at Summit West.
"Everyone should realize that it could be their equipment that gets stolen next time," he said. Jorgensen recommends that people pay attention and notify security, or any employee, if they spot someone who has too many boards or pairs of skis with them, or is acting suspiciously.
"The mountain atmosphere is a different kind of culture; people should be looking out for each other," Jorgensen said. "None of us want thieves, and we shouldn't tolerate it. We're here to have fun on the mountain. As long as we're all working together, it's an easy problem to take care of. Take care of your own stuff, and take care of each other."
Jorgensen added that if the majority of patrons started using the check service or locking their equipment, it would eliminate the market for stolen boards and skis.
Another tip is when purchasing a board or skis, make sure the retailer knows where it came from.
"We buy from manufacturers, so we know they're not stolen," Roettger said. She also advised boarders and skiers to write down their equipment's serial number and keep it on file. At her stores, Roettger keeps serial numbers on file in case of insurance claims, or if police need to identify a stolen board. Customizing your own board can also eliminate problems, she added, by placing stickers on it for easy identification.