INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The winter months in Tahoe can sometimes stretch from late October through April, and the ever-changing weather in the Sierra can take many visitors by surprise. But the real problem is so many are totally unprepared for the region’s extreme conditions. Just ask the volunteers of the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team.
The wheels were put into motion for organizing the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue team in 1976, when a young skier, 12-year-old Lance Sevison, became lost off the back side of Northstar. At that time, no organized backcountry search team was available to go out in the blizzard and search, said Bob Wright, who has been Tahoe Nordic since 1999.
When a search party was eventually organized and Sevison was located, it was too late to save him. It was this tragic experience that led Lance’s father, Larry, and others involved in the search to want to have an organized backcountry search team available for others. Today, Larry is still involved with Tahoe Nordic and participates in searches each season.
The level of medical, mountain and skiing skills of the rescue team is vital to the team’s success. Members are not only trained with wilderness First Aid, but many also are EMTs, firefighters, nurses, doctors or ski patrollers.
When called for an emergency, it could be from the Placer, Nevada, El Dorado, Washoe, Douglas or Tuolumne County Sheriff’s departments. Since 1977, the search and rescue team has documented 266 searches. Wright said.
“I can’t say enough about the search and rescue volunteers that respond for complete strangers,” said Sgt. Ralph Caldwell, head of Search and Rescue for Washoe County Sheriff’s Office.
“Usually we go in teams of four, often time splitting into teams of two,” said Wright, a telemark skier on the ski team who also operates a snow cat for TNSAR.
“Total number of searchers varies, but typically 8-12. We always go in pairs at the minimum which goes for our snowmobile teams as well,” Wright said. “The snow cat goes in as a support and transfer vehicle once we retrieve the missing party. On multiple day searches, we'll have 20 plus searchers rotating shifts.”
The gear needed for TNSAR is carried in the team truck, a 2008 Ford Crew Cab that is specially outfitted with the tools of the backcountry — skis, poles, backpacks, stoves, tents, sleeping bags, food, maps radios avalanche transceivers, shovels, storm clothing, headlamps, medical kits, climbing skins, rock and ice climbing gear, sleds, snowshoes — enough equipment for 12 skiers.
TNSAR receives donations and discounts on both gear and apparel to keep the team’s equipment ready at all times. Recently, the Parasol Tahoe Community Foundation provided a grant to TNSAR and it will be used for new Arc’teryx search jackets for team members.
TNSAR also provides winter education programs for fourth-grade students in Tahoe and has a video “Winter Aware” for high schools.
A special brochure Winter Awareness, a guide to winter preparedness and survival is available on the TNSAR website www.tahoenordicsar.com and can easily be downloaded.
The Great Ski Race in March is the TNSAR main fundraiser. To learn more about this organization attend the event, or better yet, participate.