My Turn: Search and rescue skiers, snowmobilers at it again
Special to the Sun
TAHOE/TRUCKEE – Last Tuesday, in a blizzard, a snowboarder at Squaw Valley fell over a cliff and got disoriented, then lost. The Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team went to find him, and an interesting episode happened.
The event occurred ironically just 12 days before The Great Ski Race, the team’s main fundraiser. The rescue underscores the importance of the race. So please ski with us March 3. And read on.
After the snowboarder was reported missing around 1:30 p.m., Squaw Valley ski patrollers Peter York and Jeb Mirczak, both of whom are also on the search and rescue team, discovered the snowboarder’s tracks near Silverado Chair. They followed the tracks and found that the man took a pretty bad fall off a cliff, stood up and kept going out of bounds. The chase was on.
If you look at a map, you’ll realize this guy was really in trouble. The track headed north out of Squaw Valley and into the wilderness of Pole Creek drainage. It was snowing, getting dark and turning cold.
Peter called the proper channels to instigate an out-of-bounds search. The Placer County Sheriff’s Office mobilized our team, and things started rolling. Meanwhile, it just so happened that TNSAR member Paul Cushing and I were spending the night at the Bradley Hut in Pole Creek, taking advantage of the fresh snow. Our search pagers went off, and we were, needless to say, in the right spot.
York suggested we ski uphill from the hut toward “Ole Flattop,” and then hang a left and traverse toward Silver Peak. We headed out the door at 7 p.m. Clouds were breaking, and we had some moonlight to ski by, but we also had headlamps. We thought it was really bizarre that anyone would get lost at Squaw Valley and come out in Pole Creek. You’ve got to do a lot of hiking, or post-holing, to climb the ridges.
We were cruising along thinking this was one wild goose chase, when we spotted a great little meadow to drop into. We made a plan to ski a few turns and then climb back up and continue our traverse. What a wonderful little run we had. Then, to our surprise, BOOM!!! – at the meadow’s bottom was a fresh snowboard track. We had found our man! Sure enough by 7:30 we were upon him. This guy was so happy to see us. He was scared and shivering.
We were in a ravine, and had to get him out by hiking up a ridge and then down the next drainage to Highway 89. I gave him my poles to use and carried his snowboard. We called the team and arranged a meeting spot halfway down the mountain. The trip was arduous. We scrambled across several difficult creeks and struggled through tangles of manzanita.
Just as the terrain worsened, team members showed up to help. They had brought snowshoes, poles and extra clothes for the lost man. They stamped a wide trail. In the end, to bring the man out, it took seven TNSAR skiers (Jeff DeVries, Bernie Mellor, John Pang, Jeb Mirczak, Jimmy Smith, Paul Cushing and myself), three snowmobilers (Chris McConnell, Scott Baumgardner and Todd Bassett) and Dave Gleske driving the snowcat.
That is your local search and rescue team at it again, and now it’s your turn to help. The Great Ski Race is on Sunday, March 3. It is our one-and-only major fundraiser, and we want your support. We had to cancel last year when the snow got thin, but this year the race is on, 9 a.m. sharp.
Come on out and have a good time, and be a part of a fantastic event that supports a great team. Registration: http://www.thegreatskirace.com.
Doug Read is a local resident and member of the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team.