Avalanche experts set off discussion on dangers, past tragedy
Good Morning Truckee features search and rescue, winter forecasters, film directors
Though the Truckee-Tahoe area has experienced a dry start to 2022, avalanche danger took center stage during Tuesday’s Good Morning Truckee forum.
The Sierra Avalanche Center has issued low avalanche danger forecasts since Jan. 8, according to Executive Director David Reichel.
“It’s been a little dull for the last month,” said Reichel during Tuesday’s meeting.
Though the region hasn’t experienced any snowfall in weeks, Reichel said that doesn’t necessarily mean the avalanche danger will remain low.
“We have a rapid warm up in our future likely, and it’s possible to see a loose, wet, a warming-related avalanche problem listed in our forecast,” said Reichel.
Before sunrise each day, the Sierra Avalanche Center team is at work on a daily forecast, gleaning information from recent snowpack observations, the prior night’s weather data, and that day’s forecast.
The avalanche center’s work is one of many tools employed by Logan Talbott and Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue volunteers. The nonprofit team, formed nearly a half century ago, works with local sheriff’s offices and other agencies to conduct search-and-rescue missions. Since its formation, Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue has completed nearly 400 searches and found 664 people. The team currently has more than 100 volunteers, including those who help with communications to backcountry skiers, who will go out in the middle of the night in a storm to find a lost person.
On Monday, Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue teamed with California Highway Patrol to put rescuers on skis via helicopter directly to the scene of an incident.
“This is a little more in line with what you might see in Yosemite … we’re pretty proud of that program in the event that someone needs help immediately,” said Talbott.
For those in the backcountry or at local resorts, Talbott stressed the importance of making a plan and backup plan, having the right equipment, skiing with a partner, and also of having a charged phone.
“When you call 911, the dispatcher can actually get GPS coordinates off your phone, and we can literally ski directly to you … if your phone dies, we can’t do that,” said Talbott. “It can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of a search.”
Talbott said the rescue team recently pulled two lost skiers from Palisades Tahoe, and in both instances were able to immediately locate the lost individual via cell GPS coordinates from cell phones.
FUNDRAISING AND A MOVIE
Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue will host its main fundraising event, The Great Ski Race, on March 6. The race features a new route and will start and end at Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Area. Registration is open and can be done at http://www.thegreatskirace.com.
Hoping to shed more light on programs like Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue and the Sierra Avalanche Center are Jared Drake and Steven Siig. The two directed the award winning film, “Buried,” which tells the story of the 1982 avalanche at Alpine Meadows that killed seven people.
“As we set out to make the movie, some people were questioning why tell this story, especially the victims’ families, like, ‘What good can come from this? Why are you guys doing this? It happened 40 years ago. We’ve dealt with it. We’ve moved on. What do you hope to gain?’ For us it was always an opportunity to learn,” said Drake. “If you don’t share and communicate and pass your experiences on, then it’s an opportunity wasted.”
The directors said they hope the film brings to light the dangers of avalanches, but also the work teams like Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue and Sierra Avalanche Center do.
A screening of the film is slated for March 14 at the Community Arts Center in Truckee and will be a fundraiser for the Sierra Avalanche Center.
“It’s not just a film about an avalanche, and a tragedy, and a rescue, it’s about community,” said Siig.
Plans are to have another screening on the anniversary of the avalanche on March 31 at Alpine Meadows.
“It would have been very easy for Palisades Tahoe and Alpine Meadows to push us away and say this is not how we attract skiers and snowboarders, ‘Why would you do this?’ They did the total opposite,” said Drake.
For more information on the film and screenings, visit http://www.buriedfilm.com.
Justin Scacco is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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