Two avalanches reported near ski resort | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Two avalanches reported near ski resort

Susan Wood

Two avalanches occurred in the backcountry east of Sierra-at-Tahoe today, prompting a rescue team to go out on a search for lost or buried travelers. The search has since been called off.

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

No lost or buried person has been found as a result of the avalanche located almost a half mile east of the resort in the Huckleberry Canyon area. The horseshoe-shaped region lies directly in front of the Grandview Express chairlift.

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

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

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

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“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 the 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. About half of all buried victims will die, if they are not rescued within 30 minutes.

The Sierra Nevada has remained active. The Mammoth Lakes area, in particular, had reports of a handful of fatalities due to avalanches in the region.