Experienced and equipped party caught in fatal Sierra avalanche
TRUCKEE, Calif. ” Gerilyn Marie Ewing had all the right equipment and plenty of experience when she and her party set out for a cross-country skiing trip in an area popular with backcountry skiers.
But neither the experience nor the equipment was enough to save her life. Ewing, 45, died Sunday in rugged federal forest land north of Lake Tahoe that is roped off with a sign cautioning skiers of danger, authorities said.
Two members of the party escaped the slide in a backcountry area between the Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley ski resorts north of Lake Tahoe, Placer County sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Wells said.
“People will say ‘They shouldn’t have been out there,”‘ Ewing’s longtime boyfriend Jerry Puryear told the San Francisco Chronicle. “People love to second-guess. It’s an awful tragedy. I think everything was done right. All the safety precautions were in place. It’s one of those awful, awful accidents.”
Ewing, a critical care nurse at Saint Marys Regional Medical Center in Reno, had spent the night in a rustic cabin and was skiing out with her party when the avalanche occurred.
Randall Osterhuber, a director with the rescue team who helped with the recovery effort, said Ewing had been dragged through the trees several hundred feet.
“She was pretty beat up,” he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Her body was carried out Sunday afternoon, Wells said.
Puryear said everyone in the party had a transceiver, shovel and probe and all were experienced in backcountry travel.
He said he survived after his glove was spotted above the avalanche pack by another group member, Yale Spina, who dug him out after five minutes in the snow. Spina dug himself out just before rescuing Puryear.
“He got to me just before I was gone,” Puryear told the Chronicle. “People performed under the pressure like they should have. It wasn’t a case … where something happened and no one knew what to do.”
Depending on circumstances, an avalanche victim generally will die of asphyxiation in less than 25 minutes and as few as 10 minutes.
Greg Murtha, director of marketing for Sugar Bowl ski resort, said the party had skied into a popular area for backcountry enthusiasts.
“Sugar Bowl, like many ski resorts borders on national Forest Service lands,” he said. “We are required to provide access to the public lands.
“The boundary is roped off and signed ” ‘You are now leaving ski resort boundaries. Leave at your own risk.’
“They understood that equipment is needed for a backcountry adventure and had that equipment.”
The party had left Sugar Bowl and was on Forest Service land when the avalanche was reported at about 11 a.m. Sunday.
It took time to rescue the skiers because of the threat of another avalanche, Wells said. “It’s really rough terrain” and a “very dangerous avalanche area,” he said.
Ski resorts in the area reported as much as 20 inches of snow from a weekend storm.
Murtha said he had not seen the avalanche zone, but understood it had blanketed about one acre, making it difficult for the searchers to pinpoint signals from the beacons, which send out alarms. He was not sure how quickly the survivors switched their beacons from the send to receive modes.
“These avalanche beacons don’t assure your safety. You need to practice, practice, practice all intricacies,” he said.
Murtha said Sugar Bowl was preparing to send trained dogs to the area to help search for the victim, but a doctor in the party said her body had been recovered.
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