Tahoe Nordic works together to save four lives this winter | SierraSun.com
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Tahoe Nordic works together to save four lives this winter

Dirk Schoonmaker
Special to the Sun

Struggling in deep snow and fatigued to the point of collapse, a snowboarder sought shelter under a tree and hoped he would make it through the night.

Four miles away, on the same night, two snowmobilers abandoned their snowmobiles in rugged terrain and attempted to hike to safety, but realized they had no idea which way to go.

Ten days prior, a hiker had become disoriented in new snow, and eight hours after setting out on his hike, sat down next to a rock and resigned himself to the fact that he would probably not survive until sunrise.

In each case, the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team was dispatched and, with the support of the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, each lost person was united with his family.

On Saturday, Dec. 13, at 9 a.m. as the “Storm of the Decade” was hitting the Bay Area, a 65-year-old gentleman left his second home on Lynnwood Drive in Cedar Flat and departed for a hike in the woods.

When he had not returned at 4 p.m., his wife called the Placer County Sheriff’s Office and they, in turn, dispatched Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue.

Seventeen volunteer rescuers and 2 PCSO deputies responded, and at 9 p.m., after tracking the man, he was found semiconscious and hypothermic sitting next to a rock, resigned to the fact that he was going to die (as he told the first rescuers to reach him).

Immediate rewarming was commenced, as all rescuers converged on the scene, and after an hour it was determined that the patient’s condition had improved to the point he could be transported to a waiting ambulance on the back of an ATV. He was released from the hospital later that night with no lasting injuries.

On Friday, Dec. 19, at 10 a.m., as 12 inches of snow was falling at the top of Alpine Meadows, an inexperienced snowboarder became separated from his friends and unwittingly rode off the back of Ward Peak into the Granite Chief Wilderness.

At 3 p.m., his friends reported him missing to Alpine Meadows Ski Patrol, who alerted PCSO, which, in turn, dispatched Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue.

Four skiers responded and were transported to the top of Alpine Meadows to start searching into the Wilderness Area.

Seven team members who were on a training run turned around and skied out six miles to join the search, only to find when they arrived at the Command Post that another search had been also been initiated due to a cellphone call from two lost snowmobilers.

Three skiers joined the original search, and four skiers left to organize the second search.

The original search successfully ended after the six skiers found the snowboarder’s tracks, following them to his location deep in the Granite Chief Wilderness. After warming and feeding him, they hiked him out on snowshoes to the Five Lakes area where a snowcat from White Wolf Resort met them at about 1 a.m.

The concurrent search for the snowmobilers involved six skiers, 4four snowcat operators, five snowmobilers and a PCSO deputy, and was assisted by the fact the lost men had been able to send out their GPS location via cellphone.

One snowcat transported six skiers to within two miles of Tinker Knob, from where they ascended, into swirling snow toward the last known location of the snowmobilers.

When they reached the lost men at 11 p.m., they were fitted with snowshoes and led out, over the Pacific Crest, down to another waiting snowcat and five snowmobilers, who transported them to the Pole Creek Trailhead, where they arrived at 2 am.

The Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team, which rescued these four individuals, was conceived in 1976 as a response to the death of a boy lost off the backside of Northstar during a blizzard.

There was, at the time, no organized backcountry ski team to help search for the boy. Desperate phone calls to some local nordic skiers produced a search party that eventually located the youth, but only after it was too late.

This group of skiers, along with the boy’s father (who today still remains one of the Nordic Team’s most active members), learned there was an important void to be filled.

Thus, the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team was born and today has more than 100 active members and has participated in over 250 searches involving more than 500 lost persons.

Based in the North Lake Tahoe/Truckee area, and aligned with PCSO, the team continues to support its primary missions: conducting fast, safe rescues and educating the public on winter safety.

Dirk Schoonmaker is a longtime Tahoe City resident and volunteer with the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team team. Visit tahoenordicsar.com to learn more.


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