In the bitterly cold morning hours of Feb. 1, Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team skiers and snowmobilers brought a missing snowboarder home after tracking him past midnight into the snowbound backcountry behind Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, CA ski resort.
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The snowboarder had crossed the ski resort boundaries late in the afternoon on Jan. 31. Once a skier or rider leaves resort boundaries, Placer County Sheriff’s Office dispatches TNSAR, an elite team of skiers and snowmobilers trained to find lost people in the vast and unforgiving wilderness terrain around Lake Tahoe. Hitting the snow at about 8 pm, Team members headed westward on backcountry skis into the forests and canyons leading toward the remote Hell Hole Reservoir.
“We descended off the ridge in good weather and quickly found the track,” said Calvin Mitchell, a TNSAR skier, and snowmobiler. “We skied down toward Diamond Crossing while taking several diversionary and frustrating uphill jaunts for as much as 300 vertical feet before dropping back into the drainage.” For five hours across eight undulating miles, they followed the snowboarder’s trail as he searched for signs of civilization. Crossing Bear Pen Creek, Powderhorn Creek, and Little Powderhorn Creek, they continuing downstream another mile or so, and finally reached the missing person at 1 a.m. Frightened, hungry and cold, he was huddled next to Five Lakes Creek just two miles from Hell Hole.
“He was cold and wet, but otherwise fine,” Mitchell said. “After getting a new set of clothes from our packs and devouring a lot of the team’s extra food and water, he was ready for the hike to safety.” That climb up and out of the mountains followed their downhill course through snow that was so deep no snowmobile or snowcat could reach them. They hiked eight miles up 2,800 feet in elevation. At 9:30 a.m., Feb. 1 TNSAR rescuers and their survivor were picked up on a ridge above the ski resort by snowmobilers and a helicopter from the U.S. Naval Air Station Lemoore (in Fresno), Mitchell said.
The nonprofit Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team has 100 skiers, snowmobilers, and other volunteers who rescue lost alpine and cross-country skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers, and snow bikers. In existence since 1976, the team also helps locates downed aircraft, rescues stranded hikers and climbers, and educates the public about mountain safety. The group conducts an annual Winter Survival Program to North Tahoe/Truckee area 4th Grade Class. More info at www.tahoenordicsar.com or www.thegreatskirace.com.
The team’s primary fundraising event is coming up March 3 – The Great Ski Race, an epic and beautiful 30K cross-country ski race through the woods and mountains from Tahoe XC in Tahoe City to Cottonwood Restaurant in Truckee. Sign up now at thegreatskirace.com.