Flagstaff, AZ – On February 17 at approximately 2:00 pm the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office received a report of an adult skier and an adult snowboarder, both from the Phoenix area, who were lost outside of the Arizona Snowbowl Ski Area boundary. An approximate location was determined from their 911 call which indicated that they were east of Viet Springs at the top of a cliff. Two deputy sheriffs and the Search and Rescue Unit responded to the call and hiked into the pair’s location. Once on scene the skier and snowboarder were provided with some water and snowshoes and then escorted out to the Viet Springs trail head on Snowbowl Road. Neither the skier nor the snowboarder was prepared for conditions outside of the ski area boundary. The area was under a winter storm warning at the time of the incident which made the conditions potentially more hazardous for both the subjects of the search mission and the rescuers. The pair was reunited with family members on Snowbowl Road.
Skiers and snowboarders who plan to exit the ski area and ski or ride in the backcountry are required to have a free Kachina Peaks Winter Backcountry Permit issued by the US Forest Service at their offices or at the Agassiz Lodge Bar on weekend days. Backcountry users need to be aware that the backcountry is not regularly patrolled, and no avalanche mitigation is conducted outside of the ski area boundary. All winter backcountry users should carry equipment for backcountry travel including food, water, navigation equipment, headlamp, emergency shelter material, extra warm clothing, first aid kit, knife or multitool, fire starting kit or backpacking stove, and whistle for signaling. If traveling in avalanche terrain an avalanche transceiver, a backcountry shovel, and an avalanche probe should be carried. A trip itinerary detailing the travel plans should be left with a trusted person.
With the upcoming winter storm, skiers and snowboarders will be tempted to exit the ski area boundary to ski or ride in the backcountry. A large amount of snow over a short period of time presents a potential avalanche hazard. It is best to wait at least a day or two after a heavy winter storm before entering the backcountry. Skiers and riders who plan to enter the backcountry should have avalanche education which can be obtained through the Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center (www.kachinapeaks.org). Additionally, the Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center publishes weekly Snowpack Summaries which discuss the snowpack on the peaks and potential hazards for backcountry travel.
After completing the mission near the Snowbowl, Search and Rescue responded to the Skinner Ridge area east of Tusayan to rescue two stranded motorists and a dog. The motorists, from Minnesota, had been following their vehicle GPS from the Tusayan area to Cameron and the GPS indicated that they should take Forest Road 302 and Forest Road 301A. The forest roads were snow covered and snow removal is not conducted on those roads. As they traveled they slid off of the road and became stuck and unable to free the vehicle. Due to the winter storm affecting the area, conventional vehicles could not access the area. Search and Rescue responded to the location using two tracked vehicles. The motorists and their dog were provided with transportation to Tusayan where they obtained a hotel room. The Search and Rescue Unit would like to remind motorists to not blindly trust vehicle GPS or smartphone mapping tools when traveling. It is important to pay attention to road signs and road conditions to determine if the route suggested is a practical one. In many cases, especially in the winter, the GPS and smartphone apps do not take into account the weather or road maintenance and many motorists following those apps become lost or stranded due to the conditions.