"In deeply distressing circumstances, dozens came together to form about six probe lines and assist the search in any way they could."
When I rounded the hill at the top of Chairlift 4, it was the last thing I expected to see: a debris field of jagged snow pooling at the base of Kachina Peak. Like many who found themselves at the site of the avalanche at Taos Ski Valley Thursday (Jan. 17), I had been skiing as a pass holder on my day off from work. The slide ran almost the full length of the north-facing chute and appeared to break first near the top of the peak. As more and more patrollers rushed to the scene, I realized there were people trapped under the snow.
What I witnessed in the next three hours was the height of professionalism from Taos Ski Valley Ski Patrol and tremendous dedication from community volunteers. In deeply distressing circumstances, dozens came together to form about six probe lines and assist the search in any way they could.
So many people volunteered in the initial phase of the search that ski patrol momentarily ran out of probes. It was during this time that I documented the scene, interviewed witnesses and corresponded with my coworkers at The Taos News. As more probes became available, I joined the search.
Most of the probe lines consisted of one patroller who called commands and set the pace for the people lining up on either side of them. "Right, middle, left, step. Right, middle, left, step." Keeping up with the pattern and pace was all we were focused on.
We would periodically sink waist-deep into snow in trying to step up the mountain. After hours of probing, some collapsed in exhaustion.
The urgency and immediacy with which visitors threw themselves into rescue efforts that day is a reflection of the community fostered by the Taos Ski Valley. I hope we can find solace in this and, going forward, endeavor to learn more about mitigating avalanche risks in steep inbounds terrain. My heart aches for the families who lost loved ones so suddenly and so tragically.
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