None hurt in backcountry avalanches |

None hurt in backcountry avalanches

Susan Wood
Nevada Appeal News Service
Dan Thrift/Nevada Appeal News Service Sierra-at-Tahoe General Manager John Rice talks with rescue personnel Wednesday after two avalanches near the resort.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – Two avalanches occurred Wednesday in the backcountry east of Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort, prompting a rescue team to search for possible lost or buried travelers. No one was found, and no injuries were reported.

The first snow slide was reported at 12:52 p.m. and measured about 50 yards across at the top, 75 yards long and 6 inches deep, said resort spokeswoman Nicole Belt. The second one was a little smaller.

The avalanche was about a half mile east of the resort in Huckleberry Canyon. The horseshoe-shaped region lies directly in front of the Grandview Express chair lift.

An off-duty employee reported seeing the slide. The ski area notified the El Dorado Sheriff’s Department as a precautionary protocol called for a “hasty search.” Ski patroller Jim Bitner with avalanche rescue dog, Cruiser, combed the area with the county search and rescue team and other patrollers. They found tracks going in and out of the area of the first avalanche and one skier rode out the second slide.

None of the skiers or snowboarders believed to have triggered the avalanches were located, but the tracks indicate that they made it out, said Mike Sukau, who heads up the search and rescue team for the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department.

To make sure, the search team included an avalanche dog, and equipment such as avalanche beacons and several teams of searchers with probes, Sukau said. About half of all buried victims will die if they are not rescued within 30 minutes.

The search was called off at 4:14 p.m.

“It turned out to be a search and rescue and a really good exercise in training as it involved multiple agencies,” he said. Those involved also included Sierra-at-Tahoe ski patrollers, the Lake Valley Fire Department and a California Highway Patrol helicopter.

Wednesday’s avalanche advisory for the Sierra Nevada between Yuba and Sonora passes was listed as moderate. This means natural avalanches are unlikely, but human-triggered avalanches are possible.

“Unlikely doesn’t mean impossible,” said Brandon Schwartz, avalanche forecaster with the U.S. Forest Service’s Truckee Ranger Station.

Schwartz went out Wednesday and found areas on Lake Tahoe’s west shore where small natural slides occurred near D.L. Bliss State Park.

“It’s not surprising we’ve seen these. We’ve had avalanche activity all along the Sierra crest. It’s been active. There are factors at work. We’ve had a lot of wind, and the slopes are wind loaded. The temperatures have gone up, and more (snow) is coming in,” he said.

High winds whip up and load snow on cornices that may give way naturally or when backcountry travelers pass over them.

Most avalanches occur on slopes of 30 to 45 degrees. There are two types of avalanches – slab and loose slide. The first slide was a slab avalanche.