Lost skier found after two days
Fifty-one hours after she left the Sugar Bowl ski area boundary, Sara Allis
Norvill of Danville was found alive and ambulatory Monday by local search and
rescue volunteers. “About 1 p.m. we heard they had found footprints,” Norvill’s
sister Carrie said. “About 10 minutes later they called us all together to tell
us they’d found her and that she was alive. I feel such incredible happiness.”
Norvill was found at 1:05 p.m. Monday in the Onion Creek drainage which runs
between Mount Lincoln and Mount Disney. She said she survived by eating snow and
thinking of loved ones. She even composed a good-bye letter to her fiance and
family using an eyeliner pencil and a scrap of paper. “I ate snow and screamed,”
Norvill said. “It was a long night. I hung out at the snow cave and screamed.”
Norvill was last seen by her skiing companion at about 10:45 a.m. Saturday when
the two friends decided to ski different routes to the base lodge where they
would meet for lunch, Placer County Sheriff’s Sergeant Jeffrey A. Granum said.
Shortly before 5 p.m., Norvill’s friend reported to Sugar Bowl ski patrol that
Norvill was missing. After ski resort employees completed a thorough in-bounds
search, they contacted the PCSO and the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue teams. By
Sunday morning, additional assistance was requested from the California Office of
Emergency Services, the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office and the Eldorado County
Sheriff’s Office. Fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft assistance was also launched
several times, Granum said, but was repeatedly cancelled due to hazardous weather
conditions. Dogs, snowcats, snow mobiles, cross-country skiers, snowshoers and a
division of the United States Marine Corps were deployed to assist in the search.
Granum said the cost of the extensive search will take time to calculate due to
the numerous agencies and resources utilized. Unwilling to estimate the cost of
the search, Granum said merely that he thinks “It’ll be a lot.”
“California state law allows the county where the incident occurred to bill the
county in which the individual resides,” Granum said. “This county will be
entirely reimbursed for this expense.” Tony Bochene of the Tahoe Nordic Search
and Rescue Team also participated in the search and offered advice on preventing
such incidents. “Don’t ski alone,” Bochene said. “If you must ski alone, let
someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. If nothing else, leave a
note on your car stating where you’ve gone and when you expect to be back.” If an
individual does become lost, Bochene said, he should prepare to remain where he
is until found by rescuers. Such preparations should include carving out a hole
in a tree well or sheltered snow drift and marking the area above the tree well
with a brightly colored article of clothing or crossed skis. Norvill said she
found a tree well which she lined with pine boughs and needles before settling in
for the night on Saturday and again on Sunday. As suggested by Bochene, she
marked the tree well above-ground with her crossed skis, a symbol which is
recognized internationally as a sign of a skier in distress. However, Norvill
chose to try to hike from her sheltered tree well during the two days she was
stranded. “We would have found her the first night if she had just stayed still,”
Bochene said. At least one person should be grateful that the search was still
under way Sunday. On Sunday, while participating in the search for Norvill, a
snowmobile rider happened upon a lone snowboarder in an area outside summit ski
resort boundaries, Granum said. The snowboarder reported having been lost since
two days prior and was relieved to receive assistance from the snowmobiler in
leaving the backcountry. Granum said the lone snowboarder had not been reported
missing because he had not informed anyone of his plans Friday. The name of the
snowboarder has not been released.
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