Avalanche Control Underway in Sierras

March 4, 2009 8:12:27 PM PST
The most recent storm dumped up to six feet of snow in the mountains. It increased the risk of more avalanches and drastically affected traffic along major Highways 50 and 80. The snow has been good for skiers but a hazard for workers. The Sierra Avalanche Center says most of the snowpack appears to have been stabilized by now, lessening the chances of another avalanche.

Blasting sounds could be heard throughout the Sierras Wednesday as ski resorts and safety officials worked to prevent avalanches. The snowpack has been unstable for days.

"Even at developed ski areas the hazard typically is lower than outside the ski area, but that doesn't mean that things can't happen within the ski area boundary," Mt. Rose Ski Patrol Director Mike Ferrari told ABC7.

Preventive measures were necessary after a potent winter storm walloped the Sierra in Northern Nevada the last couple of days, dumping up to six feet of new snow in some places.

Avalanche control can be dangerous work. A Squaw Valley Ski Patrol member died Tuesday when he was caught in a slide and partially buried. A co-worker dug out 41-year-old Andrew Entin but he died later at a Reno hospital.

The death hit home for many who work at area ski resorts.

"Tahoe is a fairly tight-knit community. It was a tragedy to hear about Squaw Valley. But, here at Boreal, we do take all the safety measures we need to for avalanche safety," said Jon Slaughter at Boreal Mountain Resort.

Under these conditions skiiers and snowboarders are warned of the possibility of an avalanche, especially in the back country. While the risk does not stop some adventurers from having fun, it is on their minds.

"Oh yeah. Normally you have a beeker. They can find you and be alright. But, I don't know. Besides that, take your chances. That's what it's all about," says snowboarder Zack Levin.

Off the mountains and onto the roads, multiple spin-outs and jack-knifes forced the closure of Interstate 80 from Applegate to the Oregon Stateline Tuesday.

For miles, all truck drivers could do was pull off the side of the highway and wait it out.

"It's really dangerous. Zero-visibillity. That's what I was told. Zero-visibility up there. So the best advice I can tell you is take it easy. Take your time," offered stranded truck driver Gilbert Hernandez.

Interstate 80 finally did reopen around Wednesday morning when the sun came out. The Sierra Avalanche Center says there are still some layers of snow that coule be problematic over the next few days, but they will be watching those areas very closely.

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