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Skiers escape resort avalanche

No one was reported missing and only a few people had minor injuries after an avalanche rumbled through a Mammoth Mountain ski run, authorities said.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

No one was reported missing and only a few people had minor injuries after an avalanche rumbled through a Mammoth Mountain ski run, authorities said.

Search crews spent hours Monday looking for people possibly buried under the snow, using poles to probe every six inches, said Joani Lynch, spokeswoman for the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.

"We fielded a number of calls from concerned individuals looking for people, and it turns out that the individuals who were not accounted for were helping with the search," Lynch said.

Video shot by a snowboarder and aired exclusively on the "Today" show Tuesday showed the avalanche and the rescue of a skier buried under the slide. The skier, Amy Abell, was located with the aid of the video shot by Ken Rosenfield. She was unconscious when rescuers dug her out but was not seriously injured.

The avalanche hit shortly after 2 p.m., authorities said.

"All of a sudden, I heard Eric scream ‘avalanche,’” said skier Gregg Garfield on "Today," referring to fellow skier Eric Woods of Beverly Hills. “And I just put the pedal to the metal and got going. I didn't really realize how big of a deal it was. I heard the rumble, and then I began to feel the rumble under my feet. I had no idea what was going on behind me."

As for Abell, the ski patrol "got to her fast,” Garfield said. “And she was under the snow, unconscious. She had been under the snow for like four minutes. Her lips were blue. The ski patrols got her up, and they did an outstanding job. This woman Austin resuscitated her fast.”

Three or four minor injuries were initially reported by fire dispatch, but no one was taken to the local hospital, Fire Chief Brent Harper said. Lynch said the ski area had no reports of injuries related to the incident.

The slide, while fairly wide, occurred only in the area of a run called Climax near the top of the 11,053-foot mountain, which has had record snowfall this season, Lynch said.

Controlled slides triggered earlier
The mountain's ski patrol had triggered controlled slides earlier and had blasted the Climax area, too, Lynch said. But she did not know if that work had actually caused any snow to slide in the Climax area.

Skier Katie Bloom, 26, said she saw the aftermath of the avalanche as she rode a gondola up the mountain.

"It was huge," said Bloom, a teacher. "You could see some people in snow up to their knees. I saw some patrollers digging. I couldn't tell if they were using a shovel or their hands. Everyone was screaming, 'Oh, no, not again.'"

The avalanche came on the heels of an April 6 tragedy in which three members of Mammoth's ski patrol were asphyxiated by gas from a volcanic vent on the mountain. One of the three was the resort's avalanche expert.

Heavy snow
The Mammoth Web site reported the resort closed operations for the day at 2:30 p.m. It also said 11 inches of snow had fallen in the 24 hours preceding 6 a.m. and the base depth was 18 feet to 20 feet.

The resort has had more than 52 feet of total snowfall since October.

Mammoth, 195 miles east of San Francisco, is very popular with skiers and snowboarders from Southern California. It has 3,500 skiable acres, 150 trails and 28 lifts.

The Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center had warned that there was considerable danger of both natural and manmade avalanches in the Mammoth Basin.

"Natural avalanches are possible, and you will probably trigger a slab avalanche if you get into steep northwest to southeast facing terrain especially above treeline," the warning posted Monday said.

A slab avalanche sets loose an entire slope.

The April 6 deaths occurred as a ski patrol team was raising a fence around a well-known hazard, a vent that spews volcanic gases. Thick snow collapsed, and two members of the patrol fell in. A third member, Charles Walter Rosenthal, was overcome and died after entering the hole in a rescue attempt.