Avalanche kills woman in the backcountry | SierraSun.com

Avalanche kills woman in the backcountry

Gerilyn Ewing

A Reno woman was killed Sunday morning by an avalanche that tore through the rugged backcountry south of Sugar Bowl ski resort and momentarily trapped two other skiers.

Gerilyn Ewing, 45, was skiing with a party of 11 people, some from the Truckee area, when she got caught in an avalanche near Anderson Peak at 11:15 a.m. Sunday, the Placer County Sheriff’s department reported. The party had spent Saturday night at the Benson Hut, a popular Sierra Club stopping-off point for skier’s traversing the ridgeline from Sugar Bowl to Squaw Valley.

Two other members of the party that were trapped by the avalanche escaped serious injury after emerging from the snow relatively quickly, Placer County Sheriff Sgt. David Wells said. They returned to Sugar Bowl by Sunday evening.

One of the trapped skiers was near the surface and able to dig himself out. Avalanche beacons, which were carried by members of the team, proved useful in locating the second trapped skier, Wells said.

Sunday morning the entire group went skiing. As some of the skiers returned to Benson Hut, they received a radio call from others in the group, reporting the avalanche and that some of their party had been buried.

Ski resorts in the area reported as much as 20 inches of snow from a weekend storm. A continuing avalanche threat hampered efforts of rescuers in the area, authorities said.

A group of Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue skiers responded to the avalanche area from Sugar Bowl Ski Resort. Another group, including Placer County Sheriffs, traveled to the scene through Coldstream Canyon by snowcat and snowmobile.

Ewing worked as a nurse in the cardiac intensive care unit at Saint Mary’s Regional Care Center in Reno for 19 years. She received the northern Nevada nurse of the year award for acute care in 2004

“She was one of the best nurses that I have ever worked with in my life,” said Diane Pemberton, her manager at Saint Mary’s.

Ewing was an excellent mother to her son Nicholas, gave liberally of her time to the community and loved athletics and the outdoors, said Pemberton.

“She was a very compassionate and high-spirited, and had a lust for life,” Pemberton said.

Avalanche forecasters throughout the region reported very hazardous slide conditions on Sunday morning. The Forest Service, which quantifies the avalanche threat in daily postings, warned of “considerable” danger.

Gary Murphy, avalanche forecaster for Alpine Meadows, said the ski resort saw considerable sliding during their morning avalanche control on Sunday.

“The wind was really critical and created this very wind-driven slab,” said Murphy. “Whenever you have those kind of conditions you are going to see slab avalanches.”

One avalanche, triggered on the upper mountain at Alpine Meadows during the morning avalanche control, left a three to four foot deep field of snow, said Murphy. That is when Murphy was sure the conditions in the backcountry would be dangerous.

“If you decide to go into the backcountry during a storm cycle like this you have to be prepared,” said Murphy.

Dick Penniman, who teaches an avalanche class for Sierra College, said the area near Anderson Peak is in the middle of heavy avalanche territory.

“That whole ridgeline between Sugar Bowl and Anderson Peak, if you drop off the ridge … is avalanche terrain,” said Penniman. “It is well known for producing avalanches.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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