TRUCKEE/TAHOE - In the midst of treacherous winter conditions, the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue saved 11 people during the holiday season in Tahoe's backcountry.
A Christmas Eve rescue was the most difficult for the team, said board member Chris McConnell.
Nine snowshoers from the Bay Area became lost near Sugar Bowl Ski Resort and called 911 about 7 p.m. Christmas Eve.
As conditions near Sugar Bowl worsened, winds gradually gained torrent speeds of roughly 100 mph, said McConnell.
"It was on the front edge of a pretty major storm series, winds and conditions were quite miserable," he said.
Immediately after learning about the group's condition, Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue dispatched three snowmobiles, four skiers and one snow cat to the area using GPS coordinates sent by the stranded snowshoers.
After an arduous journey up Coldstream Canyon rescue crews found the snowshoers at 2:30 a.m. near Anderson Peak, McConnell said.
The group had made snow caves and snow pits to wait out the storm. However, they were already suffering from frostbite and experiencing the initial stages of hypothermia McConnell said.
Leaving much of the group's gear behind, rescuers were finally able to extract the snowshoers about 5:30 a.m. - more than 10 hours after the group's initial 911 call.
On New Year's Eve two young adults from California were rescued after they skied off the back side of Sugar Bowl.
The skiers called 911 at 5:30 p.m. to report they were lost, McConnell said. Search and rescue crews, including four snowmobiles and six backcountry skiers, found the skiers at 7:30 p.m. at Rollers Pass near Cold Stream Canyon. Rescuers extricated the two by 9:30 p.m.
In both rescue efforts McConnell said speedy effort was needed to prevent hypothermia and frostbite and to track the lost people.
"The willingness to be responsive and getting out of the gate quick is one thing that is critical to picking up the tracks of the missing skier and snowboarder," he said. "Sometimes there is so much snow falling it makes it hard to find tracks."
McConnell cautioned skiers and hikers to be sensitive of forecasts, bring correct gear and mapping devices such as a GPS systems in case of emergency.
"The message here is you can never be too prepared," McConnell said.