Skiers found in good condition
SACRAMENTO – Two skiers were in good condition Monday after being plucked from the snowy Sierra, where they had been missing for two days.
Patrick Frost, 35, and Christopher Gerwig, 32, both of San Francisco, were spotted by a Placer County Sheriff’s Department helicopter in the Five Lakes Creek drainage, about seven miles from Alpine Meadows. Earlier reports said the pair was about two miles from the ski resort, just west of Lake Tahoe.
Frost and Gerwig told rescuers they unintentionally skied out of bounds off the back side of Alpine Meadows and became lost during a storm Saturday. The men thought they could walk to safety and followed a waterway toward the Upper Hell Hole Reservoir, sheriff’s officials said.
The men, described as expert skiers, were flown to Auburn Municipal Airport and taken to Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital as a precaution, authorities said.
The pair suffered “really minor, minor” frostbite to their toes, said hospital spokeswoman Janice Davis.
Frost told KTVU-TV that he and Gerwig kept a positive attitude while stranded in whiteout conditions.
“We really couldn’t see more than 10, 15 feet in front of us,” Frost said as the two left the hospital. “We never, ever considered giving up. We were going to make it.”
Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Allan Carter said both men were moving across the snow when they were spotted by the helicopter crew.
The helicopter landed at the site but only had room for one of the skiers. An observer stayed behind with one skier while the pilot flew the other to the Auburn airport, then returned for the second skier and the observer, authorities said.
“They just made snow caves and cuddled for warmth,” sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Ausnow said after talking with the pair. “They said they kind of got their knowledge of building snow caves from the Discovery Channel. They had a couple nutrition bars they rationed out and ate. They melted snow in a plastic baggie one of them had in his pocket from a sandwich or something. That was it.”
The two men had only their ski equipment and jackets for this trip, Ausnow said.
The two were with their family and friends at the sheriff’s headquarters in Auburn after they were released from the hospital, authorities said.
Gerwig’s older brother, Brian Gerwig, 35, of Denver, flew into Reno on Monday morning and was standing in a rental-car line when he got a call with the news.
“My biggest relief was just hearing this morning they found them and they’re alive,” Gerwig said. Gerwig said he was “just ecstatic. Just unbelievable.”
Gerwig said his brother became an experienced backcountry skier while living in Montana for several years.
The storm dumped between 1 and 2 feet of snow around Lake Tahoe and up to 3 feet in the mountains over the weekend before moving toward Southern California and Arizona, said Mark Deutschendorf, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Reno.
Alpine Meadows was closed Sunday because a 12-foot-deep avalanche triggered by an avalanche-control crew covered its main entrance road, Carter said. No one was trapped or injured by the avalanche.
In Southern California, meanwhile, rescuers located 53-year-old Ellen Coleman of Riverside, who was reported missing Sunday, on Mount San Jacinto. Riverside County sheriff’s officials say Coleman took a tramway to the 8,500-foot level on the mountain and had planned to hike to the 10,800-foot summit.
A sheriff’s spokesman did not know her condition Monday or how she would be taken off the mountain.
Residents of Southern California braced themselves for the worst of another winter storm predicted to soak lowland areas and coat the mountains with snow.
Overnight, snow was so heavy that a section of Interstate 5, which passes through the Tehachapi Mountains about 65 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, was closed shortly before midnight Sunday because snow and ice made the road treacherous, officials said.
Lanes in both directions across the Grapevine section were reopened Monday.
Also in Southern California, officials planned to begin clearing a rock slide that blocked Mt. Wilson road in the Angeles National Forest. Huge boulders crashed onto the roadway northeast of Los Angeles on Sunday.
– Associated Press writers Martin Griffith and Sandra Chereb in Reno, Jason Dearen and Terence Chea in San Francisco and Thomas Watkins in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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