Ski and snowboard thefts remain a problem at South Shore ski areas

At a time when law enforcement authorities are warning skiers and snowboarders about gear theft on both ends of Lake Tahoe, Sierra-at-Tahoe experienced its 23rd report of the season last week at the South Shore ski area.

The victim of the latest theft lost a new Burton board on its debut run.

Of the brand of equipment stolen, the Burton snowboard is the perennial favorite, Sierra Chief of Security Willie Shamas said. Eight of the skis and boards reported stolen have been recovered.

Opening week brought out a lot of skiers and boarders and the theft numbers rose.

This New Year's holiday, the resort experienced double and sometimes triple that of the visitation of opening day, Sierra spokeswoman Megan Moore said.

To combat the problem, the ski resort is installing anti-theft surveillance cameras at the base lodge on the mountain. Its sister resort, Northstar-at-Tahoe, is doing the same.

Sierra officials also encourage skiers and snowboarders to use its equipment check for $1. Vertical Plus pass holders receive the service free.

They also urge park riders to register their boards and skis, so their equipment may be traced by serial number.

"We have zero tolerance for this. If you're caught, you're going to jail," said Shamas, who makes the citizen arrest before handing the offender over to the authorities.

Property theft over $400 poses a felony charge.

Sierra-at-Tahoe also collaborates with the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department to conduct undercover sting operations.

"That really tackles that hole," Moore said.

With the tens of thousands of people cruising through the resort and the way some people behave on vacation in particular, it's a wonder there aren't more thefts, law enforcement contends.

"They get away from home, and everybody's having a good time. You don't expect to be victimized. And with any recreation-based activity, you don't always apply the same standards you would at home," Sheriff's Sgt. Randy Peshon said Tuesday. "(Twenty-three) is a fairly low ratio in comparison to the number of people (who visit the ski area).

But the crime is dramatic.

"We like to tell people it's like throwing $500 on the ground and leaving," Peshon said.

The warning comes after a rash of such thefts in recent weeks. In line with Sierra's tally, the same number was reported this season at a North Shore resort.

"The bottom line is, every one of our reports has the same narrative - theft of unattended gear," Placer County sheriff's Sgt. Jeff Granum told the Sierra Sun.

He indicated that five to six such thefts usually occur over the weekend, with that number growing to eight to 10 during peak season weekends on the North Shore.

On the South Shore, Heavenly spokeswoman Monica Bandows said the number of thefts are down in contrast to comparable seasons. Heavenly ski area officials have admitted to problems in the past, but they worked on stemming the tide with ski "valet" - a form of check-in - and regular patrols.

For those who are oblivious to the crime, there's the tried and true alternative that Sierra-at-Tahoe shares.

"We do try to educate them," Bandows said.

That's welcome news to South Lake Tahoe police Officer Mike Dente, who as a property theft specialist, tries to quell the crime not limited only to the ski areas.

Dente is surprised by the cases in which he discovers a vehicle is either unlocked or unattended.

Sometimes, it even happens overnight as the guests are sleeping in a hotel room.

"Every winter, we have a rash of thefts from vehicles. For the most part, the crime can be prevented if they would just lock their vehicles," Dente said. "I can't imagine leaving anything unattended, even in Lake Tahoe."

The officer wants to remind visitors and locals the crime only takes a few seconds.

His department once hauled in two teenagers who admitted to stealing from 50 unlocked, unattended vehicles in a two-month period.


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