Avalanche kills man at Taos Ski Valley - Albuquerque Journal

Avalanche kills man at Taos Ski Valley

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

TAOS – An avalanche on the highest peak at Taos Ski Valley killed one skier and critically injured another Thursday.

Both men were still alive when rescuers pulled them from the snow. They were hospitalized and initially reported to be in critical condition, but one later died.

Holy Cross Hospital CEO Bill Patten confirmed to the Taos News that the man who was treated at his facility had died.

Taos County Emergency Services Chief Chris Medina said he heard the man who died was not a local and may have been in his late twenties or early thirties.

The avalanche slammed down from Kachina Peak about 11:45 a.m. Initial reports said that several people might have been buried. The huge lift that goes up the peak, which began operating in 2015, had just opened Tuesday for the current ski season.

A Taos Ski Valley news release issued Thursday afternoon said the ski patrol had cleared the avalanche area after “an exhaustive search using the latest avalanche response protocol” and that witnesses had joined in to help rescue the two buried skiers.

“There are no additional victims,” the statement said.

Chris Stagg, Taos Ski Valley’s vice president for public relations, said maintenance work to prevent avalanches, including by detonation, had been performed earlier Thursday.

“You always have them on steep terrain,” Stagg said of avalanches. “You just hope they don’t happen when skiers are around.”

“The danger is created by pockets of snow that for whatever reason are unstable,” he said.

One of the injured skiers was taken by helicopter to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque. The second man was transported to Holy Cross Hospital in Taos where he died before 5 p.m., according to the Taos News.

Rescuers search for victims after an avalanche came down the highest peak of Taos Ski Valley on Thursday. Two skiers who were buried in the snow were pulled from the snow after a roughly 20-minute rescue effort. (Morgan Timms/Taos News)
Rescuers search for victims after an avalanche came down the highest peak of Taos Ski Valley on Thursday. Two skiers who were buried in the snow were pulled from the snow after a roughly 20-minute rescue effort. (Morgan Timms/Taos News)

Neither man was identified.

Dash Hegeman, the world-famous ski area’s marketing manager, said that, after the inbound avalanche came down Kachina Peak’s K3 chute, searchers used avalanche probes, rescue dogs and beacons that find reflectors that skiers wear in case of a snow slide.

“It started at the top, so it was a pretty significant slide,” Hegeman said.

He said the high area had been open to skiers for more than a week but at first just to those willing to hike up the peak.

The Taos Ski Valley news release said, “Avalanche mitigation work has been taking place throughout the season and as recently as this morning in the area that the avalanche occurred.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the two individuals who were affected by today’s event and their families. We are grateful to the ski patrol and community of visitors across the mountain who responded without hesitation to rescue these individuals. We appreciate the overwhelming support of the community during this incident.”

An emergency vehicle is parked at Taos Ski Valley Resort on Thursday, where an avalanche buried two people. One was taken to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque and the other to Holy Cross Hospital in Taos. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
An emergency vehicle is parked at Taos Ski Valley Resort on Thursday, where an avalanche buried two people. One was taken to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque and the other to Holy Cross Hospital in Taos. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham commented on the avalanche, which made news around the world, on Twitter. “I’m so grateful to ski patrol and the first responders for their life-saving actions today at the Taos avalanche,” she wrote. “Everyone who has been affected by this frightening situation is in my thoughts.”

Taos Ski Valley, founded in the 1950s, was bought by a hedge fund billionaire in 2014 and several improvements have been made since then. The Kachina Peak chairlift opened in February 2015 to bring skiers and snowboarders to the 12,481-foot peak. It is one of the highest chairlifts in North America.

The chairlift, which cost about $3 million and was installed by helicopter, increased access by lift to the mountain’s advanced and expert trails by 50 percent. The lift gives the ski area a vertical drop of more than 3,000 feet.

There have been a handful of deadly avalanches in the Taos Ski Valley over the past 50 years, but they occurred some distance from the main trails, according to Journal archives.

In 1973, a 17-year-old from Albuquerque was killed while skiing with two friends in an area away from the main ski trails.

In 1979, a Taos Ski Valley employee was killed about a mile and a half from the valley while back-country skiing.

A year later, in 1980, a 23-year-old man was killed when he reportedly triggered an avalanche by climbing up a mountain and skiing downhill.

The most recent death was in 1996, when a popular restaurant owner in Taos was killed back-country skiing in the Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area, outside Taos Ski Valley.

The ski resort has been doing avalanche control every year since it opened.

Journal staff reporter Elise Kaplan contributed to this story.

 


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