A Nordic rescue team was dispatched from the Donner Pass rest area in California to rescue a backcountry skier who was lost in the high country of Nevada County, northeast of Castle Peak, last Saturday, April 4. According to the Nevada County Sherrif’s Search and Rescue office, the skier had cell signal and placed an emergency call in the afternoon right before a severe winter storm was going to impact the area and dramatically raise the avalanche danger. The rescue team went out anyway.
In the process of rescuing him, avalanche danger rose tremendously due to the snowstorm and several avalanches were triggered. One team member was caught in a slab avalanche he triggered but was not buried. Thankfully, no one was injured and they all made it home safely. The full report from the Nevada County Sherriff’s Search and Rescue office can be read below.
Saturday afternoon the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office received a call of a back-country skier who was lost in the high-country of Nevada County, northeast of Castle Peak. With a severe winter storm closing in, NCSSAR answered the call and began search operations from the incident command post at Boreal Ski Resort
Cellphone contact with the subject was established, and his location was known to be northwest of Frog Lake. Snowmobiles were initially deployed, but found the dense tree cover and the steep chasms caused by open streams too much to overcome.
A Nordic rescue team deployed from Donner Pass rest area, and climbed up over the 8,600′ pass in whiteout and semi-whiteout conditions to reach the subject on the far side at 8,200′. As the storm hit, the avalanche conditions greatly increased. The rescue team witnessed two avalanches, and a team member was caught in a third small slab avalanche he triggered. Thankfully, the searcher was unharmed.
After locating the subject, the Nordic team had to retrace their tracks to avoid even higher risk avalanche areas. All teams and the subject made it safely out in the middle of the night.
This incident is stark reminder of what is at risk when venturing into the back-country right before a winter storm. If it was not for the great skill, unwavering dedication, and heroism of the teams who answered the call that night, this would have a different ending.
As the sheriff’s office put it, this situation could have ended much differently. The preparedness and heroism of the Nordic rescue team are uncanny. They are all lucky to make it out accounted for. Please heed extreme caution when skiing in the backcountry right now, search and rescue operations are limited in certain areas and you don’t want to be finding yourself on the way to a hospital in the midst of a pandemic.
If you must recreate in the backcountry during the Coronavirus crisis, please follow these guidelines: