With Tahoe powder days ahead, expert urges skier safety

Forecast shows several feet of snowfall in Sierra
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Safe driving tips

The following winter driving tips are provided by the California Highway Patrol.

  • Make sure brakes, windshield wipers, defroster, heater and exhaust system are in top condition.
  • Check antifreeze and be ready for colder temperatures. You may want to add special solvent to windshield washer reservoir to prevent icing.
  • Check tires. Make sure they are properly inflated and the tread is in good condition.
  • Always carry chains. Make sure they are the proper size for your tires and are in working order. Carry a flashlight and chain repair links. Chains must be installed on the drive wheels, so know if the car is front- or rear-wheel drive.
  • Plan for extra time.
  • Keep a full gas tank.


With a weekend storm system expected to bring several feet of snow to the Sierra this weekend, Lel Tone, a veteran ski patroller at Squaw Valley in Placer County, said skiers and boarders should follow the same advice given to commuters: Safety starts with preparation.

“The most important thing,” Tone said, “… is being prepared for the conditions you’re going to face.”

That means while loading the car with blankets, sleeping bags, medical kit and food reserves in the case of getting stranded, people looking to make powders turns at Lake Tahoe resorts should be equipped with an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe, she said.

Forecasts show snowfall accumulation levels ranging from 2 to 6 feet at elevations above 4,000 feet, and from 1 to 3 feet at elevations between 2,500 and 4,000, by Monday morning, said Drew Peterson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

High winds are expected to combine with the snow and create low visibility for travelers through the Sierra, and chain controls are likely to be in place during the weekend, Peterson said.

In Auburn, three to five inches of precipitation are expected with temperatures in the 40s throughout the weekend, he said.

“This system is pretty slow moving,” Peterson said. “It is going to be impacting us through at least midday Monday, and then we’re looking at a few days of dry weather, and at this point it does look like Christmas will be dry. … The next big system doesn’t move in until next weekend.”

For those looking to hit the slopes before Christmas, Tone said there are plenty of ways to enjoy the powder days while staying safe when there’s a higher avalanche risk or possibility of getting stuck in a tree well.

“Mother nature has her own agenda, and we need to be able to be responsible for ourselves, ultimately, and our friends,” she said. “So we need to be good ski partners. Skiing with a buddy on big powder days is critical. To have someone responsible for your wellbeing is important.”

Make sure to be properly equipped for the conditions, Tone said – it could not only save your life but help a fellow skier in trouble, as was the case at Crystal Mountain in Washington on Monday.

A skier buried by an avalanche without a beacon was rescued by a companion who used a probe to locate her, which is a great example of the importance of the “skier public” in helping each other out, Tone said.

“If more of our skier public are properly prepared, then that’s a lot more people on the hill that can keep people safe,” she said. “The ski patrol is doing their best … but we need to look at everyone on the mountain as our team out there.”

Proper preparation starts with the beacon, shovel and probe, she said, adding, “They are to be used as a unit.”

When activated, the beacon will transmit a signal broadcasting the person’s location, Tone said.

It is important to use the probe to locate someone before starting to dig, because shoveling snow is the most time consuming part of a rescue effort, she said. For example, if someone is buried in 4 feet of snow, it will take about 10 minutes to shovel out a ton to a ton and a half of snow, she added.

“You obviously don’t want to start digging wherever you get the signal with your beacon, you want to confirm that somebody is there with a probe before you spend 10 minutes to excavate someone out,” Tone said.

Squaw Valley offers two free monthly training sessions on avalanche education and rescue techniques, she said.

Mountain etiquette on powder days dictates that only one person should be on a section of the slope at a time, and watching each other ride through terrain with deep snow is also a good idea, Tone said.

Snowboarders should consider carrying collapsible ski poles in their pack as they can be helpful in getting out of both flat areas and waist-deep snow, she said.

There’s myriad technology in the realm of search and rescue.

Things like RECCO reflectors for outerwear have been around for years, while airbag packs are a newer device – the former bounces back a signal transmitted by rescuers to pinpoint a missing person’s location, the latter can be inflated if someone is caught in a snow slide to help them stay on the surface, Tone said.

Simple works, too.

“We really encourage people to wear their helmets,” she said.


Jon Schultz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews