One man has died and another remained hospitalized with critical injuries Thursday night (Jan. 17) after an avalanche near Kachina Peak in Taos Ski Valley, NM reports the Taos News. Officials had not released the identity of either victim as of late Thursday night.
According to a press release from the ski resort, an “inbounds avalanche” occurred in chute “K3” just before noon, burying the two skiers near the 12,481-foot peak. Rescuers searching the base of the couloir extracted the men just before 1 pm. Medics then performed CPR before rushing them to a clinic at the base of the resort.
The search for others who might have been buried in the avalanche was called off after 2 pm, with rescuers determining there to be “no additional victims,” according to the resort’s press release. During their search, dozens of rescuers used avalanche probes, shovels and the help of search-and-rescue dogs to search the area under the peak for anyone else who might have been swept under the snow.
According to Taos News photographer Morgan Timms, who was at the scene of the accident on Thursday, the accumulation created by the avalanche was so deep that the probes could not reach the bottom of the snowpack in some areas. A woman at the scene who spoke with Timms on the condition of anonymity said she could see – and hear – the moment the snow collapsed on Thursday.
Taos Ski Valley President, Chris Stagg, said dozens of rescuers and volunteers had used avalanche probes, shovels and the help of rescue dogs to try to find other possible victims caught in the slide. The snow was so deep that the probes, as long as 30 feet, could not reach the bottom of the snowpack.
“We are grateful to the ski patrol and community of visitors across the mountain who responded without hesitation to rescue these individuals,” Stagg said in a statement.
It’s unclear what triggered the avalanche, but the ski resort officials said an investigation was planned. Members of the ski patrol had detonated explosives near Kachina Peak early Thursday morning in an effort to reduce the risk of avalanche, Stagg said. The measure is meant to trigger a potential slide before skiers take to the slopes. The resort had also delayed opening the Kachina Lift at the start of the day, Stagg said.
“We had checked that area for avalanche conditions this morning and enacted controls,” he said. “This is a great example that you’re never 100 percent certain.”
The Kachina Peak Ski Valley lift, which provides easy access to expert terrain at the mountain’s peak, opened this season on Jan. 15. It was built in 2015, providing access to sections of the mountain which were previously only accessible on foot. Signs are posted to warn skiers and snowboarders that the terrain around Kachina Peak can be dangerous, he said, but no special equipment, such as a beacon that can be used to locate avalanche victims, is required to ride the lift to reach it.
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains where the resort is located has received significant snowfall since the new year after a series of storms.