Stay Winter Safe in the Sierras!   Leave a comment

By Tim Hauserman

Rare snow conditions have created more avalanche danger in the Tahoe Basin this year than we normally experience in a decade.

A few were caught in avalanches, but fortunately, lived to tell the tale.

Sadly, one winter enthusiast wasn’t so fortunate. Recently a 23 year old Sugar Bowl Ski Instructor, Curtis May, didn’t return to his locker after an afternoon of skiing in heavy snow. An extensive search by hundreds of volunteers, ski area employees, and law enforcement personnel had to be called off after several days after May was not found.

Unfortunately, tragic circumstances such as this are not unheard of in the winter paradise that is Tahoe. Skiers and snowboarders get lost or caught in avalanches. Fortunately, Tahoe has a number of highly trained rescue personnel that go out and save the vast majority of those lost, but the goal of all should be to stay safe in the backcountry and avoid putting yourself and rescuers in danger.

Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team, a group which might be the group which heads out into the snow to find you if you get lost, has created a Winter Awareness brochure which provides useful information to keep people safe.

Here are a few key points:

Before you go:
Check the weather forecast.

Check the avalanche report
Check your equipment and make sure everything is in working order.
Bring a basic emergency kit
Dress in layers, avoid cotton, and bring enough layers in case you are stuck in the cold for a long period of time.
Be fed, hydrated and well rested

Go with a fully charged cell phone. Search and rescue got a few pings off the missing individual’s cell phone, but it stopped soon after. Rescuers are assuming the battery died.

Consider investing in an avalanche beacon. They are at a nominal cost and can help rescuers find you should you get caught in an avalanche.

Before you go, tell a responsible person the three W’s:

Where you are going
When you will be returning
Who you are going with.

Once you are out on your adventure:

Recognize and avoid avalanche prone terrain. If you are backcountry skiing or heading out of bounds you owe it to yourself and those who rescue you to be fully trained in avalanche danger, and to act responsibly.

Don’t ski out of bounds. A snowboarder recently posted a video of what his go pro caught as he triggered an avalanche in a restricted area at Sugarbowl the same day May went missing. He was a very lucky man to be alive, however Sugarbowl is considering legal action.

Recognize the symptoms of hypothermia and understand how to prevent it (See dress in layers above).

In case of an emergency. Remember to STOP:

Stop-Stay put in a safe place. The further you go the longer it will take rescuers to find you.
Think-Evaluate your options.
Observe-Look around and use what you see to help the situation.
Plan-Formulate a plan of action. Control your thoughts, think positive.

For more information go to




Posted January 24, 2016 by lynnnrichardson in Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Winter Recreation

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