Officials have confirmed the identity of the skier killed Thursday (Jan. 17) in an inbounds avalanche at Taos Ski Valley as Matthew Zonghetti, 26, of Mansfield, Massachusetts.
The second skier caught in the avalanche remained in critical condition Friday afternoon at University of New Mexico Hospital, according to Alex Sanchez, public information officer for the facility. His name has not been confirmed by officials yet.
According to WHDH-7News Boston, Zonghetti’s identity was confirmed by Teresa Murphy, the superintendent of Mansfield Public Schools. With complete biographical details pending, Zonghetti played football and lacrosse in high school.
Editor Craig Borges of The Sun Chronicle in Massachusetts noted Zonghetti was a high school sports “All Star” featured in their paper. A Sun Chronicle article names Zonghetti in their Mansfield High School Class of 2010 list.
Tim Frias was Zonghetti’s high school lacrosse coach – and most notably, he was the ski club advisor when Zonghetti was in high school from 2006-2010.
“Matt was an expert skier. He had big mountain experience. We would go skiing out there [West] all the time. Skiing was a way of life for him. I have one hundred percent confidence in his skiing ability in the terrain he was in.”
The Taos News staff photojournalist Morgan Timms was on scene Thursday after the avalanche, which occurred in the rugged terrain below Kachina Peak, and recognized town of Taos councilor Darien Fernandez as one of the rescue volunteers.
Fernandez confirmed Friday (Jan. 18) he was a volunteer who joined in the rescue effort after the avalanche. Fernandez used to work at Taos Ski Valley and received avalanche training from the resort’s ski patrol.
“I was skiing as a passholder and unloaded Chair 4 almost immediately after the avalanche happened. I clicked out of my skis and immediately volunteered to help, as I have avalanche training,” Fernandez said. “I jumped in on the digging team for the first person located. I was in the hole with patrol when we uncovered the person, and I helped clear the snow from around his head and body while patrol established an airway. I then stepped out and joined a probe line for the next two hours.”
Fernandez said that the avalanche “hit close to home for me,” as his eldest brother Garrett Gravelle was killed in an avalanche in Telluride in 1987.
From a ski industry professional’s standpoint, Fernandez said, “I would add that beacons should be required for that terrain, and other people have called for that for years.”
Former New Mexico Governor and Taos resident Gary Johnson was also at the avalanche rescue scene. He appeared briefly on a KOAT broadcast Thursday night (Jan. 17) and he shared more of his experience with The Taos News Friday. A former University of New Mexico ski racer, Johnson has been skiing Taos Ski Valley “for years.”
“I was hiking the ridge like so many were. I saw that they had opened the Kachina Peak Lift chair to the public,” Johnson said. “So I cut my hike short and dropped down the Corner Pocket chute to Chair 4. I had heard that an avalanche had just occurred. I got to the top [of the lift ride] and saw it.”
Johnson stressed that his biggest takeaway from the whole incident was just how feverishly 200 people were trying to find the two skiers – and a reported third skier whom some thought earlier was caught in the avalanche. “There wasn’t anyone unwilling to get out there and help.”
Officials later reported the two men were the only skiers caught in the avalanche.
The K3 chute is Johnson’s favorite run and he was actually heading there. Describing the run, he said, “There is not a choke on it. I have found it to be consistent from top to bottom. I know over the years having skied it so often, it does slide. But after it slides, it does get packed down.”
Referring to the large base of local skiers and visitors who delight in the Kachina Peak runs, Johnson said, “It could’ve been any one of us. No one is to blame. These things do happen.”
Taos Ski Valley issued at statement expressing deep sadness over yesterday’s events and noted the the entire Taos Ski Valley team, guests and the local community are grieving. “Right now we are conducting our accident review, as we do following all on-mountain accidents. An in-bounds avalanche is extraordinarily rare and a situation like this has never happened at Taos Ski Valley before. The Taos Ski Valley Ski Patrol conducts avalanche mitigation daily and regularly checks the mountain throughout the day.”