New Snow, New Danger For Winter Recreation

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EL DORADO COUNTY --

Search and rescue officials say the new snow in the Sierra is enticing back country visitors to go off trail and put themselves in danger.

Such was the case on Sunday when two men on snowmobiles had to spend the night in the woods after their machines got stuck in heavy snow.

"This is the first time in four years we've had decent snowfall, so I think people are unaware of how much snow there is up in the mountains and especially in the back country," said Sgt. Todd Hammitt of the El Dorado County Sheriffs Office, who works with its search and rescue team.

The two men did many things right, like having plenty of warm clothing and tunneling into a tree well to spend the night. They were also able to start a fire and used personal radios to contact each other when they were separated. A CHP search helicopter was able to hone in on their frequency to shorten the search the next day.

But the two also went off track at 4 p.m., shortly before sundown.

"We recommend people start early in the day and finish up early in the afternoon ... the temperatures will plummet once the sun goes down, and if you do encounter a problem, that gives you a little more time to get yourself out," Hammitt said.

A third member of the party was able to get help when the other two didn't return. But he didn't have keys to the car and had to hitch-hike for help.

"If you are traveling in groups, have a plan and make sure you execute that plan before you start to separate," Hammitt said.

Personal emergency beacons are always a good idea along with radios, but the terrain can cause them to be ineffective. Twenty-four hours worth of food, water and supplies is always a good idea now that there is plenty of snow to entice visitors to the outdoors during winter.