Avalanche hits Mammoth Mountain resort; search underway | SierraSun.com

Avalanche hits Mammoth Mountain resort; search underway

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – An avalanche struck the Mammoth Mountain resort Monday and a search was under way to determine if anyone was trapped. Three minor injuries were reported.

The Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center had posted a warning of “considerable” danger on Monday.

The avalanche occurred shortly after 2 p.m., said fire Chief Brent Harper.

More than 200 people were searching an area of a ski run in the Climax section of the resort, which has had record snowfall this season. Climax is near the top of the 11,053-foot mountain.

“I just hope there’s no one under there,” Mayor Rick Wood said in an interview. “I’m just waiting and hoping like everyone else.”

The avalanche came on the heels of an April 6 tragedy when three members of Mammoth’s ski patrol were asphyxiated by gas from a volcanic vent. One of the three was the resort’s avalanche expert.

“As the news, whatever it is, comes out, I’d really like to be conservative and cautious and hopeful,” the mayor said. “We don’t need another terrible thing. We just hope for the best.”

The Mammoth Web site reported the resort closed operations for the day at 2:30 p.m. It also said 11 inches of snow had fallen in the 24 hours preceding 6 a.m. and the base depth was 18 feet to 20 feet.

The resort has had more than 52 feet of total snowfall since October.

Mammoth, 195 miles east of San Francisco, is popular with skiers and snowboarders from Southern California. It has 3,500 skiable acres, 150 trails and 28 lifts.

The Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center’s had warned that there was considerable danger of both natural and manmade avalanches in the Mammoth Basin.

“Natural avalanches are possible and you will probably trigger a slab avalanche if you get into steep northwest to southeast facing terrain especially above treeline,” the warning said.

A slab avalanche sets loose an entire slope.

The April 6 deaths occurred as a ski patrol team was raising a fence around a well-known hazard, a vent that spews volcanic gases. Thick snow collapsed and two members of the patrol fell in. A third member, Charles Walter Rosenthal, was overcome and died after entering the hole in a rescue attempt.

Rosenthal, a research scientist, was the ski patrol’s snow and avalanche analyst, and was president of the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center, which he had helped found.

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