Sheriff’s deputies arrested pioneer backcountry skier Roland Fleck on Saturday at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and ski patrollers tobogganed him off the mountain in handcuffs after he refused to stop skiing uphill.
Fleck, 78, a longtime Jackson doctor, fitness buff and one of the original investors in Teton Village, was arrested on misdemeanor charges of criminal trespass, interference with an officer, unsafe skiing and theft of services. His extrication from the mountain came after up to seven ski patrollers spend 3.5 hours trying to stop him, reports said.
Roland Fleck has always been a big supporter of the ski area but believes he has a right to ski uphill, Dan Fleck, an attorney with The Spence Law Firm who is representing his father, said.
“He was within his rights to access the forest, and he was skiing safely,” Dan Fleck said.
Roland Fleck simply wanted to combine exercise with an outing to his granddaughter’s ski race, Dan Fleck said, and he had no intention of stealing a lift ticket or stealing a ride on a lift.
Ski patrollers told deputies who responded to the resort Saturday that a 78-year-old skier defied their orders to stop skiing uphill, skied over several patrollers’ skis, refused an offer of a free day pass and refused to leave the resort, sheriff’s Capt. Scott Terry said.
Deputies were transported to Roland Fleck’s location at the NASTAR course under the Casper Lift in a toboggan, Terry said. They told Fleck skiing uphill was a violation of Wyoming law and that it is considered unsafe, he said.
They asked him to meet them at the base of the mountain so they could issue him a citation, but he refused to cooperate, Terry said.
Deputies arrested Fleck and used two sets of handcuffs linked together behind his back to restrict his arms, Terry said. They sat him in a toboggan with a deputy as ski patrollers sledded him down the mountain, Terry said.
Fleck spent about seven hours in the Teton County Jail, an arrest summary report shows.
Whether prosecutors will file any charges against Fleck in 9th Circuit Court remains unclear.
The resort’s position on the incident could be a factor in that decision, Terry said.
“We go out and seek the truth in an investigation and document it,” Terry said of the sheriff’s office. “We put it before the prosecutor’s office to make any charging decisions, and I think they would take the input of the sheriff and the victim into account in making those decisions.”
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort had not provided the News&Guide with any statements regarding the incident as of press time Tuesday.
Teton County and Prosecuting Attorney Steve Weichman said Tuesday that if his office receives an investigation from the sheriff’s office he will request that county commissioners appoint a special prosecutor in the case.
Weichman said he’s close to Roland Fleck.
“He’s a very dear, good friend of mine, and my office will not touch that with a 10-foot pole,” the prosecuting attorney said.
When asked what would happen if the resort opted not to pursue charges, Weichman said he didn’t want to engage in speculation.
“My office is not going to have any involvement in the case, but it would be foolish to go find a special prosecutor if no one, including the defendant and the village, wanted this pursued,” he said.
Weichman would have to recommend a special prosecutor to commissioners.
Safe skiing or not?
Terry questioned whether deputies were correct when they told Fleck skiing uphill is a violation of state statute.
The statute says a skier cannot move uphill when impaired by alcohol or drugs or when the activity is done with reckless disregard for self or others.
Nothing in police reports indicates deputies suspected Fleck was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Dan Fleck said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on any individual charges his father might face.
However, he said skiing uphill is done at resorts around the world. The Mountain Resort even hosts competitions in which climbing is celebrated.
Roland Fleck was skiing uphill, or skinning, on a cat track, Dan Fleck said. Snow King Resort permits skiers to move uphill on a cat track, he said, and the activity is not considered unsafe.
Roland Fleck started visiting Jackson Hole in the late 1950s and has lived in the valley full time since 1978, Dan Fleck said.
“He’s probably one of the first people to use climbing skins in the valley, which he brought over from Austria,” he said.
Roland Fleck is from Innsbruck, Austria, an alpine sports mecca. He bought the lot Hotel Terra now sits on in 1965 from village founder Paul McCollister, Dan Fleck said. McCollister used money from the sale of lots at the base of the village to finance the original Jackson Hole Aerial Tram, he said.
The resort’s authority
The trespassing charge likely would apply to Fleck because resort regulations prohibit skiing uphill and the resort has a right to ask someone engaging in prohibited activities to leave, Terry said.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has a 40-year special-use permit to use U.S. Forest Service lands, Ray Spencer, Teton Division winter sports administrator for the Bridger-Teton National Forest, said.
Because the resort assumes liability for all activities inside the permit area, it has the authority to regulate what can and cannot be done there, he said.
The following comes from a deputy’s report:
Several patrollers contacted Fleck and asked him to “ski properly.” Each time, Fleck refused.
Fleck did not show proof of a ski pass or lift ticket, and sheriff’s deputies later confirmed he had not purchased either.
A patroller offered him a free pass if he would turn around and “ski properly,” but he refused.
Another patroller approached Fleck and was attempting to show him a map to explain why he couldn’t ski uphill when Fleck skied over the tops of the patroller’s skis.
A third patroller arrived and tried to show Fleck the resort’s rules, but Fleck was defiant.
“I don’t want to look at that, I just want to talk to a sheriff,” he allegedly said.
A fourth patroller told Fleck to stop, but Fleck ignored him and continued uphill. The patroller took a chairlift up and skied down to approach Fleck again, but Fleck skied over the tops of his skis and continued uphill. The patroller made another round on the chairlift and attempted to get Fleck to talk to a sheriff’s deputy on a cell phone.
A fifth patroller arrived and Fleck told him “write me a ticket.”
Deputies arrived and told Fleck skinning uphill was considered unsafe and that he was using the groomed ski slopes and had not purchased a ticket to do so.
Fleck allegedly became argumentative, telling deputies to “just give me a ticket.”
The deputies asked Fleck to descend to the parking lot so they could write him a citation, but he refused.
The deputies told Fleck that if he didn’t go to the parking lot they would arrest him. Fleck put his right ski on, and a deputy picked up his left ski and placed it out of his reach.
A deputy stepped on the binding release mechanism on Fleck’s right ski and told him to step out of it. He complied.
Each time the deputies asked him to cooperate, Fleck allegedly became argumentative.
The deputies decided to arrest him, and he pulled away when one of them took hold of his arm.
They got his hands behind his back and used two sets of handcuffs linked together to restrain him. They sat him in a toboggan with a deputy, and patrollers sledded them down the mountain. A second deputy took a chairlift down.