Two skiers extracted, more may still be missing
According to a press release from the resort, an “inbounds avalanche” occurred in chute four on Kachina Peak just before noon, burying at least two people near the base of the run.
Members of Taos Ski Valley Ski Patrol and other first responders searching the snow had extracted two skiers just before 1 p.m. and performed CPR on them, but are uncertain if anyone else may have been buried in the slide.
According to Chris Stagg, vice president of public affairs for the ski valley, the skiers – both male – were still alive as of 2 p.m. and had been taken down the mountain to the resort’s Mogul Medical Clinic.
Other rescuers are using avalanche probes, shovels and the help of rescue dogs to search the area of the avalanche for anyone else who may still be buried beneath the snow, Stagg said.
According to Taos News photographer Morgan Timms, who was at the scene of the accident on Thursday, the snow from the avalanche is so deep that the probes, which are as long as 30 feet, could not reach the bottom of the snowpack.
A woman at the scene of the rescue effort who spoke with Timms on the condition of anonymity said she could see – and hear – the moment of the collapse.
“I see two people trying to come down and a third person on the left. They were really good skiers it looked like,” she said and then directed Timms attention to a point near the top of the steep run. “I turned my back to put my bindings on … and then I heard a sound. It sounded like an earthquake coming.”
The witness said a cloud of snow rushed down the run, but she couldnt’ see how many people were buried once the slide settled.
Medics with Taos County Emergency Services and firefighters with Taos Volunteer Fire Department are on standby at the base of the resort as the search continues.
The Kachina Peak Ski Valley lift, which provides easy access to expert terrain at the top of the mountain, opened on Jan. 15. It was built in 2015, providing access to sections of the mountain which were previously only accessible on foot.
Stagg said members of the mountain’s ski patrol team had detonated explosives in the area of Kachina Peak early Thursday morning in an effort to reduce the risk of avalanche.
While the rescue operation continues into Thursday afternoon, the Kachina Peak lift has been closed and lift four has been closed temporarily. Other lifts are still operating.
This is a developing story.
Photographer Morgan Timms and Cody Hooks contributed to this report.
One skier dies, second critically injured after avalanche at Taos Ski Valley
Ski resort begins investigation
Updated Jan. 17 at 10:14 p.m.
One man has died and another remained hospitalized with critical injuries Thursday night (Jan. 17) after an avalanche near Kachina Peak in Taos Ski Valley.
Holy Cross Hospital CEO Bill Patten confirmed that one of the men who was treated at their facility in Taos had died of his injuries just before 5 p.m.
Officials had not released the identity of either victim as of late Thursday night.
According to a press release from the ski resort, which is one of the largest in Northern New Mexico, an “inbounds avalanche” occurred in chute “K3” just before noon, burying the two skiers near the 12,481-foot peak.
Rescuers searching the base of the couloir extracted the men just before 1 p.m. Medics then performed CPR before rushing them to a clinic at the base of the resort.
According to a report heard on Taos Central Dispatch, a medic transporting one of the men in an ambulance to Holy Cross Hospital said she had “one male trauma patient,” for whom she had established an IV and an intubator, a medical device that helps a person breath when they are unconscious.
The second victim also suffered critical injuries and was flown by helicopter to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque.
As of press time Thursday night, he was still being treated at the facility.
The search for others who might have been buried in the avalanche was called off after 2 p.m., with rescuers determining there to be “no additional victims,” according to the resort’s press release.
During their search, dozens of rescuers used avalanche probes, shovels and the help of search-and-rescue dogs to search the area under the peak for anyone else who might have been swept under the snow.
According to Taos News photographer Morgan Timms, who was at the scene of the accident on Thursday, the accumulation created by the avalanche was so deep that the probes could not reach the bottom of the snowpack in some areas.
A woman at the scene who spoke with Timms on the condition of anonymity said she could see – and hear – the moment the snow collapsed on Thursday.
“I see two people trying to come down and a third person on the left. They were really good skiers it looked like,” she said. “I turned my back to put my bindings on … and then I heard a sound. It sounded like an earthquake coming.”
The witness said a cloud of snow rushed down the run, but she couldn’t see how many people had been buried once it settled. Rescuers at the scene, however, ultimately determined that no one else was buried in the accident.
The Kachina Peak Ski Valley lift, which provides easy access to expert terrain at the mountain’s peak, opened this season on Jan. 15. It was built in 2015, providing access to sections of the mountain which were previously only accessible on foot.
Chris Stagg, vice president of public relations at the resort, said members of the Taos ski patrol team had detonated explosives in the area of Kachina Peak early Thursday morning in an effort to reduce the risk of an avalanche.
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains where the resort is located has received significant snowfall since the new year after a series of storms.
An employee at the ski valley for over 46 years, Stagg said he could not recall an incident like the one that happened on Thursday.
“It’s certainly very rare,” he said.
Signs are posted to warn skiers and snowboarders that the terrain around Kachina Peak can be dangerous, he said, but no special equipment, such as a beacon that can be used to locate avalanche victims, is required to ride the lift to reach it.
This is a developing story.
Reporters Morgan Timms, Jesse Moya and Cody Hooks contributed to this report.