Frequently Asked Questions
Vail Mountain Rescue, or VMRG, is a volunteer organization responsible for backcountry search and rescue activities in Eagle County, Colorado. This responsibility has been delegated by the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office to meet the Sheriff’s obligation for backcountry search and rescue. As the need arises, the team also assists in other counties across Colorado.
Services are provided without charge.
VMRG is accredited by the international Mountain Rescue Association (MRA) and is affiliated with Colorado Search and Rescue Association (CSRA). VMRG was established in 1985 as a 501(c)(3), non-profit corporation.
No. VMRG’s unpaid volunteers are available for search and rescue outside the ski area boundaries winter and summer, 24/7, 365 days a year.
The Vail and Beaver Creek Ski Patrols are part of Vail Resorts. They are paid employees who conduct rescue activities only within the ski area boundaries, and only when the ski mountain is open.
Despite these different missions, Ski Patrol and VMRG teams do cooperate in areas adjacent to the ski resorts under the Sheriff’s authorization.
Friends of Mountain Rescue is an organization responsible for fundraising to provide money for VMRG’s day-to-day operations. It is managed by a Board of Directors, oversees a professionally managed endowment and may give funds raised only to VMRG. Friends’ goal is to create an endowment that will ensure needed revenue in perpetuity without using team manpower for fundraising events.
There are 50-70 active members, depending on the time of year.
VMRG receives no direct government funding; however, a number of agencies supply in-kind support in the form of transportation, communications and logistics. But their budgets are already stretched and government simply cannot afford to carry a bigger load.
VMRG’s annual operating costs are ~$150,000 per year for training and equipment. Capital costs, e.g., truck and machine replacement, can bring the total to $180,000 per year. Soliciting these funds via fundraising events and individual donations takes rescuer time away from missions and training. The goal of Friends of Mountain Rescue is to create an endowment that will provide those funds in perpetuity.
VMRG spends most of its annual $150,000 operating budget on gear and the training. One radio cost $1,800; rope costs $1.50 per foot, and carabineers cost $30 each. Often major items need to be replaced and they are quite costly. Our newest truck, one of three, cost $70,000, a snowmobile or ATV costs as much as $12,000., None of this gear and equipment lasts forever and hard usage, a given in the rescue environment, means it must be constantly replaced as it is lost, broken, or wears out.
VMRG provides search and rescue anywhere in Eagle County that is off a usable paved road. Essentially, we go to work where the highway ends. In any given year, we not only rescue lost hikers, skiers, and snowboarders, but respond to crashed paragliders and other aircraft; sick or injured hunters; kayakers and rafters in trouble on our rivers; as well as skiers who stray outside ski area boundaries and need assistance. We are also responsible for body recovery in the back country.
Yes, a portion of the revenue from hunting, fishing licenses, and hiking cards goes into a statewide fund for search and rescue. However, it can only be drawn on by county Sheriff’s to offset extra ordinary search and rescue costs, not to maintain a search and rescue organization. Any funds remaining at the end of the year are available for grants to individual Sheriff’s Offices to purchase equipment or provide training for search and rescue. These funds pay only a small percentage of the annual cost of search and rescue.
The savings are well over $1,000,000 per year.
Using one approach, a minimally staffed organization with an officer and three subordinates on duty 24/7/365 might require 18 or more employees. Assuming that one government employee’s salary plus benefits cost $100,000 per year, the savings approaches $2 million per year.
Using a different approach, if you cost out the 8,000 hours that VMRG members devote to missions and training at just $100 per hour, the direct savings from the current program are $800,000 annually.
Either way, utilizing the services of an unpaid volunteer organization saves the taxpayers a significant amount. It also means that there is a large, well trained group at the ready for any need.
The simple answer is that it is too expensive for current revenue streams. VMRG’s successful and valued approach to search and rescue is embraced by the Sheriff’s Office as the best way for Eagle County. VMRG helps defray public agency costs and keep taxes down.
Government agencies provide in-kind support for VMRG’s transportation, communications and logistics infrastructure. But the budgets of these agencies have limits, and providing fully for back country search and rescues at taxpayer expense is not in the fiscal cards. Thus, the bulk of required operating funds have been raised by private donations.
Building an endowment will ensure that VMRG is always there in the future for the benefit all who enjoy the backcountry in Eagle County. Yearly endowment revenue would provide the funding needed for day-to-day operations and for large capital costs.
Without an endowment, scarce hours of skilled rescuer time would have to be devoted to fundraising activities. Most VMRG volunteers work one or more jobs and can only take so much time away from their families and employers. An endowment would eliminate this drain on manpower available for search and rescue.
Successfully building an endowment would also show our team how valued they are to Eagle County residents and visitors alike.