PLACER COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) -- One person was killed and another was seriously injured Friday following an avalanche at the Alpine Meadows ski resort.
Burt Brooks, of Calabasas, was one of many stunned by the news that two fellow skiers eager to hit 2 feet of newly fallen snow were trapped in a morning avalanche at Alpine Meadows.
“It's awful. It's terrible," Brooks told FOX40.
Officials have identified 34-year-old Cole Comstock, of Blairsden, as the person who died after snow raced down the Subway ski run.
His friend was rushed into emergency surgery after suffering severe injuries to his lower body.
“It was pretty chaotic when it first happened. There were a lot of volunteers, fortunately,” said Placer County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Powers. “I do know that he was transported to Tahoe Forest Hospital and he underwent emergency surgery at that time."
A statement from Comstock's wife, Caitlin, was sent to FOX40 Friday night:
Cole was the most kind hearted and caring person to his friends and even strangers. He always went out of his way to make everyone feel loved and cared for and welcome and was always the first person to introduce himself to new people because he just wanted to be everyone's friend. He was extremely hardworking and put everyone else's needs first and never complained once about it. He loved skiing and loved living life. He deeply loved his friends, his family, and above all his wife. He supported everyone with all of his heart and was a true example of unconditional love. If there is one thing about Coles life to take away, remember to always be kind to one another and celebrate each others victories, not because you need something, but because it is the right thing to do.
Sgt. Powers near the scene with the latest on the avalanche at #alpinemeadows 1 confirmed fatality,2nd victim with serious injuries on the way to a hospital. SAR volunteers looking for more potential unaccounted victims. Ski resort still open, but area near Subway ski run closed. pic.twitter.com/DC209XK2g1
— Placer Sheriff (@PlacerSheriff) January 17, 2020
The unpredictability of Mother Nature is something no one and no amount of checking can change. Resort staff reports they had avalanche control patrols out between 7:30 a.m. and 8:15 a.m.
"Unfortunately, small avalanches can be dangerous and in this particular case, it was," Sgt. Powers said. "I can't describe the exact size of the avalanche but I do know ski patrol is doing an investigation into that."
The incident happened around two hours after the patrols completed and the reviewed areas were deemed safe to open to the public. But three hours before the avalanche, the Sierra Avalanche Center put out its forecast for avalanche danger for the day in the Tahoe area and they rated it as a D2. That means an avalanche that could cause injury or death was likely.
"What's really discouraging and upsetting is that they were in bounds, they were inside the park. So, what happened?" one skier said.
The Alpine Meadows resort remained open Friday but the Subway run was closed as crews continued to search the area for anyone missing.
"We immediately coordinated a search and rescue. We had search and rescue personnel from Tahoe Nordic, Placer County search and rescue. We also had numerous volunteers that had avalanche probes, avalanche receiver beacons, and they had avalanche dogs out here," Sgt. Powers said.
Arriving search teams did not know how many people they might be looking for when minutes mattered most.
“We would still be out there looking if we didn't have those witnesses and we didn't have all those resources and the volunteers certainly were a huge help," Powers said.
The sheriff's office tweeted shortly before 1 p.m. that the search had been called off. The resort said the search was "complete" at 11:45 a.m. and issued a statement early Friday afternoon.
The entire Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows team, including all of the first responders, extend their deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the deceased. We are working closely with the families of all the affected individuals to ensure their continued care.
On a stormy afternoon in March of 1982, an avalanche at Alpine Meadows killed seven people and trapped a woman in the snow for five days.