Body of avalanche victim recovered | SierraSun.com

Body of avalanche victim recovered

Alisha Wyman

Photo by Josh Miller, Sierra SunSearch teams gathered Monday morning near Castle Peak three miles north of Soda Springs near the site of a Dec. 31 avalanche. The body of a Sunnyvale man was recovered mid-morning. Another skier survived the avalanche, but was trapped for a day by stormy weather before being able to call for help.

A Pacific Grove cross-country skier’s body was recovered 10:30 a.m. Monday from the base of an avalanche site north of Donner Summit. The victim was taken out of the area by snow cat.

Authorities had been working almost 20 hours since 1 p.m. Saturday after receiving a call from a skier who had been with the victim at the time of the avalanche. It occurred Thursday in the north facing ravine on the south side of Castle Peak, about 3 miles from the Boreal exit.

The sheriff’s office has not released the name of either man.

“We’re basically respecting the families’ wishes at this point,” said Sgt. Joseph Salivar, with the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office.

The large amount of snow that has accumulated since the avalanche complicated search efforts, making it difficult to locate its path, Salivar said.

“That (was) the biggest struggle ” to find the edges of the debris field,” he said.

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The two men had headed out Dec. 31 and stayed in a cabin know as Peter Grub Hut for the night. The New Year’s day blizzard, bringing extreme temperatures and white-out conditions, caught them when they attempted to ski out, Salivar said. As they traversed across a bowl between the hut and the Castle Peak area, a corneas above them gave way, causing the avalanche.

The surviving skier escaped uninjured. He was buried up to his shoulders but was able to dig himself out, find his skies and head back to the hut. He stayed there until the storm subsided Saturday morning.

After he skied out, he used a cell phone to call for help. The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, Placer County Sheriff’s Office and various search and rescue operations assisted in the search for the missing skier.

Teams of an average of 30 people worked with dogs during the three-day search, moving up from the bottom of the debris field, an area about 100-200 feet wide and about 200 yards long, Salivar said. They used probe poles to try to locate the victim. Opening the holes in the snow also lets any scent up for the dogs moving behind workers.

“They’re having to dig out 10 feet of snow before they probe down,” said Chris Brouwers , the president of the Nevada County Search and Rescue, during the search. “When they get a strike with the dogs, that’s the area they dig out. They may dig out a 30 feet circle. You can imagine shoveling out your driveway. 300 feet worth ” that’s a lot of work.”

Searchers had found several items of clothing, including a glove, a ski skin and a backpack, before locating the victim.

Salivar estimated the skiers were in their late 20s or early 30s. They were experienced skiers who knew the area, he said.

According to the Forest Service National Center, avalanches caused 58 deaths in 2002 and 2003. Depending on the clothes the person is wearing or how much of a breathing pocket a victim can create, survival time varies from a few minutes to a few hours, Salivar said.

Those experienced in such conditions can survive several days if they have the equipment with them to create a snow cave, Brouwers said.

“Certified searchers are trained … to build a cave so that they can rest and build up more energy to be able to dig themselves out,” he said.

Salivar said although avalanches occur frequently in this area, it is unusual that they cause fatalities. It is even more unlikely that days pass before the rescue crews are alerted.

In the wake of the same storm, two skiers and four snow boarders were found uninjured after getting lost at separate ski resorts near Lake Tahoe.

Skiers Nick Panofsky, 20, and Josie McKee, 17, were lost Friday on the backside of Sugar Bowl. They were found Saturday at 12:30 a.m.

Nickolas Novich, 20, Kip Shields, 25, Jesse McKillop, 24, and Porter McQueary, 26, were lost on the backside of Alpine Meadows. They found a hunters cabin for the night, where they started a small fire.

At Donner Ski Ranch, a boy, 13, was trapped under a small snow slide, but area ski patrol was able to dig him out within 20 minutes.