A late winter storm that dumped at least 6 feet of snow in parts of California's Sierra Nevada created ripe conditions Friday for snow sports enthusiasts but also posed avalanche dangers, as one man died while skiing in back country.
The fatality came after sheriff's officials rescued a group Thursday on a mountain south of Alpine Meadows Resort in Placer County. A wave of snow had hit the group as they reportedly tried to climb a mountain on skis, a technique known as skinning. Authorities say that may have triggered the avalanche.
Rescuers from the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue team were able to reach one injured man about 90 minutes after the accident was reported. He was taken in critical condition to a Truckee hospital, where he died later that day, KOVR-TV reported (http://cbsloc.al/wU3vd4 ).
The Nevada County coroner identified him as Benjamin Brackett, 29, of Olympic Valley. The cause of death was not immediately available.
The avalanche was reported just as a winter storm warning for the region was lifted following a two-day storm.
"We've had very few storms this season that have created so much snow," said Jim Mathews, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
The heavy snow was welcome in the state hit by an especially dry winter, but officials say much more precipitation is needed to replenish water supplies and avoid reducing allotments to farmers. The state uses reservoirs and a system of aqueducts to deliver snowmelt to 25 million Californians who depend on it for all or part of their water.
Measurements on Thursday showed the water content of the snowpack at 34 percent of normal, the fourth-lowest reading since the 1940s, said Dave Rizzardo, chief of snow surveys for the Department of Water Resources. Last year at this time, the snowpack was 124 percent of normal and reached 165 percent by April 1.
Rizzardo said the latest precipitation was welcome, "but the reality is we need a lot more."
The storm is bringing fresh powder to ski resorts, but powdery snow lacks the moisture content that Rizzardo wanted to see.
"The ski resorts are happy — it will be a nice powder day tomorrow. But we like the wet, cement stuff that really hurts you when you fall down," Rizzardo said. "Nothing personal against skiers."
The lack of water content and the unlikely prospects that enough storms will come to make up the deficit by April's melt has prompted officials to warn Central California farmers that they will receive only half of the water they requested this growing season.
The snowfall, part of a blast from the Gulf of Alaska, fell heaviest in the Northern Sierra Nevada, with smaller readings as far south as Yosemite National Park, where chains were required.
Elsewhere, the Colorado mountains saw more than 18 inches of snow in some areas, and forecasters said Friday another 6 inches could fall before the storm front passes.
Farther east, a storm dumped nearly a foot of snow in parts of upstate New York by Thursday, a rare wallop in a season that's been unusually snowless. Snow also fell across parts of southern Maine.
The snow in the northeast was welcomed by some students who got a snow day and for snow plow drivers happy to get back to work.