By Scott Sonner
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — A man killed in an avalanche at a Lake Tahoe ski resort on Friday was remembered as an avid skier familiar with the picturesque mountains along the northern California and Nevada border.
Cole Comstock, 34, of Blairsden, California, was caught in the avalanche that seriously injured another skier on some of the steepest terrain at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, where a series of expert runs snake through trees, past cliffs and down narrow chutes. The avalanche occurred the morning after a storm dumped 11 to 22 inches (0.28 to 0.56 meters) of snow.
“You have to be pretty skilled to get over there in the first place,” said Sean Kent of Reno, who was at Alpine Meadows Friday and has skied the affected area before. “It’s fickle. It comes with the territory. There’s only so much you can do.”
Comstock’s family said in a statement to the Sacramento Bee that he had been skiing for 11 years and grew up in the nearby town of Quincy, California.
“He deeply loved his friends, his family, and, above all, his wife,” their statement read. “He supported everyone with all of his heart and was a true example of unconditional love.”
Placer County Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Powers said the injured skier had serious lower body injuries and was airlifted to a Lake Tahoe hospital for emergency surgery.
Powers said a ski patrol was on scene in the rugged area almost immediately, where others at the top of the run said two skiers had been on the hill below them in an area within the ski resort’s boundary.
“I know at least one of the victims was partially buried by snow,” Powers said. “When you get conditions like this, there is always a risk of avalanche.”
The Sierra Avalanche Center had warned of dangerous avalanche conditions for all elevations following the storm. Its website said there was “a high degree of uncertainty in regards to snowpack instability near and below treeline.”
Search and rescue crews scoured the rest of the mountain with dogs after the avalanche. Authorities did not believe there were any more victims.
Snowboarder Rex Mulvaney of Reno said he noticed some areas had been roped off and people were heading back down the mountain.
“I knew right away something was wrong,” he said. “They don’t usually close something as soon as they open it, like five minutes later.”
The cause of the avalanche was under investigation. The resort said avalanche-prevention work had been performed in the area before it was opened to skiers for the day.
The tragedy came at the start of a busy holiday weekend where hundreds of people flock to ski resorts surrounding Lake Tahoe, oftentimes enduring hours-long traffic backup and treacherous road conditions to reach the region’s snow-covered slopes.
An avalanche at Alpine Meadows in March 1982 killed seven people, including several employees of the ski resort. It struck several buildings, including the main lodge and two chairlifts, and buried the resort’s parking lot. One woman was discovered after five days, buried in the remains of the ski chalet.
Alpine Meadows, about 7 miles (11 kilometers) from Tahoe City, is next to Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 winter Olympics. The two resorts are co-owned by Alterra Mountain Co. and operated as Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.
On its website, Alpine Meadows touts itself as a “picturesque playground for families and off-the-radar thrill-seekers.” The property has more than 100 trails across 2,400 acres (971 hectares), groomed runs and chalet-style lodges.