Snowboarder rescued from Tahoe back country

Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue skier and rescued snowboarder on Grouse Rock. | Troy Corliss

In the bitter cold morning hours of Feb. 1, Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue team skiers and snowmobilers brought a missing snowboarder home after tracking him past midnight into the snowbound back country behind Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows ski resort, according to a press release from Search and Rescue.

The snowboarder had crossed the ski resort boundaries late in the afternoon on Jan. 31. Once a skier or rider leaves resort boundaries, Placer County Sheriff’s Office dispatches TNSAR, an elite team of skiers and snowmobilers trained to find lost people in the vast and unforgiving wilderness terrain around Tahoe. Hitting the snow at about 8 p.m., team members headed westward on back-country skis into the forests and canyons leading toward the remote Hell Hole Reservoir.

The helicopter assist from Naval Air Station Lemoore in Fresno for skiers after the rescue. | Troy Corliss


“We descended off the ridge in good weather and quickly found the track,” said Calvin Mitchell, a TNSAR skier and snowmobiler, in the press release. “We skied down toward Diamond Crossing while taking several diversionary and frustrating uphill jaunts for as much as 300 vertical feet before dropping back into the drainage.”

For 5 hours across 8 undulating miles they followed the snowboarder’s trail as he searched for signs of civilization. Crossing Bear Pen Creek, Powderhorn Creek and Little Powderhorn Creek, they continued downstream another mile or so, and finally reached the missing person at 1 a.m. Frightened, hungry and cold, he was huddled next to Five Lakes Creek just 2 miles from Hell Hole.

“He was cold and wet, but otherwise fine,” Mitchell said. “After getting a new set of clothes from our packs and devouring a lot of the team’s extra food and water, he was ready for the hike to safety.”

That climb up and out of the mountains followed their downhill course through snow that was so deep no snowmobile or snowcat could reach them. They hiked 8 miles up 2,800 feet in elevation. At 9:30 a.m., Feb. 1 TNSAR rescuers and their survivor were picked up on a ridge above the ski resort by snowmobilers and a helicopter from the U.S. Naval Air Station Lemoore in Fresno, Mitchell said.

Read Tim Hauserman’s story on Tahoe’s Mountain Heroes: Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue

The nonprofit Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team has 100 skiers, snowmobilers and other volunteers who rescue lost alpine and cross-country skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers, and snow bikers. In existence since 1976, the team also helps locates downed aircraft, rescues stranded hikers and climbers, and educates the public about mountain safety. The group conducts an annual Winter Survival Program to North Tahoe-Truckee area fourth graders. | 

The team’s primary fundraising event is coming up March 3 – The Great Ski Race, an epic and beautiful 30K cross-country ski race through the woods and mountains from Tahoe Cross Country in Tahoe City to Cottonwood Restaurant in Truckee. |