Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue, Inc. Tahoe Nordic Search & Rescue, Inc.


April 2011

Life is a Bike Trip…many, many moons ago I found myself in Patagonia pedaling around aimlessly on a shiny red mountain bike. I was woefully unprepared for Tierra Del Fuego, but I looked great. Spandex, waterproof panniers, powdered sports drinks, high tech bike computer, lots of brand name (and brand new) gadgets. One day I stumbled across an ancient touring bicycle complete with a wicker basket, a small pack strapped to a handmade rack, and lots and lots of zip ties. No rider, just an old bike that had clearly been around the mulberry bush a few times. Then I met Gunnar, the Norwegian cyclist in charge of piloting that old bike. He wore sandals, a straw hat, a cotton shirt. Clearly an amateur. At first glance I laughed to myself and thought “…there’s no way I’m riding with him, I don’t want to wait around all day for this old geezer to catch up.” We chatted briefly and decided to ride together since we were both heading in the same direction. I snickered. “See you at the end of the day,” I said to myself. And indeed I did finally see him at the end of the day as I pushed my bike into the camp that he had already set up. Sipping whiskey, relaxing, smiling innocently, he had been there for hours waiting for me. “I was beginning to worry,” he said with a strong accent and genuine concern for my health and welfare. I was wrecked. Day one with Gunnar. This pattern was repeated for over a month. I never arrived first. But I did learn a lot, every day, and I’ll never forget my stunned amazement when I realized that life is so much like a bike trip. One minute you are completely miserable, trying to change a flat tire on a 20% grade dirt road in a snowstorm and by the time you get the tire changed the sun breaks out and you get a view of glaciers and waterfalls and rainbows. Yin and yang. Last week four feet of snow, this week 55 degrees and sunblock. The trip continues. So saddle up, balance your chakra, and join TNSAR at the Granlibakken Hut. Our next general meeting is Monday, April 4th, at 6:30pm. Come one, come all, wear cotton or spandex, all are welcome. We provide beer, bring your own whiskey.

Old Guys Rule…this just in from Gerald Rockwell, TNSAR Team member since 1802, Great Ski Race Beer Boss since the fermentation process was discovered, honored TNSAR member of the year 1998-1999, TNSAR past President extraordinaire 1996-1999, and closet snowshoe aficionado.  

TNSAR Dictionary of Terms

By the Old Guy in the corner

It occurred to me the other day that many of the newer members of the team might not be familiar with certain terms and phrases used by those that have been around awhile (some a long, long while).  For instance, at all meetings someone shouts out “stand up”.  This occurs anytime Doug Read delivers an edict concerning the Great Ski Race or other event.  Now it is obvious why this is said but to the uninitiated this might seem quite rude.  In reality it carries on a tradition left to us by the honorable Skip Reedy, long time friend of Doug’s.  I don’t know if there is a limited time of membership that allows for this statement but if you are feeling comfortable around the group and someone forgets to shout out, feel free to do so yourself.  Doug will then know he is still appreciated.

Another old term is “Big Dog Tour”.  It has not been used much as late.  It originated with Carl Toeppner, a former training committee head.  In those days we only had two trainings a month and they generally involved a tour of some sort.  When it was Carl’s turn to announce the trainings he would scratch his head and say in his deep, gravely baritone, “We are going on a Big Dog Tour.  Meet at the trail head at 8.  Bring a big lunch and a headlamp”.  We have not had many of these in recent years.  Fitness is the biggest requirement for a search.  Maybe it is time to bring them back.  Us old guys talk a big tour but maybe one of the younger guys or gals would like to jump in and wear some folks out.

Many years back we coined the term “pulling a Malarkey”.  I have heard several versions of the story and will try to do it justice here.  Patrick Malarkey, former board member and good spirit in general was on his first major search out of Alpine Meadows.  He was hot to be the first searcher to the victim.  At some point during the sprint down the back side of Alpine, packs were removed to adjust clothing to the effort.  In his excitement Patrick took off down the trail without his pack.  The next group to come along stumbled over his pack (no one was hurt) and radioed ahead to see what was up.  A sheepish reply came back asking that the pack be shuttled forward.  Thus “pulling a Malarkey” entered the team language.

More recently we learned the “Wright way to pull a Malarkey”.  As Jimmie dropped off ski teams to look for lost snowshoers in Paige Meadows, a call came in from the command post for exact coordinates.  Bob Wright, being a very conscientious and obliging searcher immediately pulled out his GPS and radioed in the required information.  Meanwhile Jimmy punched it and tore off down the meadow to drop off TNSAR snowshoers (OMG), including current President Russ Viehman.  Bob turned to ski off and realized his poles were still in the snow cat.  It was a long slog for Bob but at least we now know the “Wright way to pull a Malarkey.”  By the way, when the hell did we form a %@**!! snowshoe team?

ps  Patrick Malarkey has a very serious brain tumor and is not doing as well as we would like.  If you know Patrick he would love to have a visit or hear from you.  Give him a call at 582 1487.  If you don’t know him, send some good thoughts his way.

Elections…Getting sick and tired of the way this organization is being mismanaged? Want to take charge of Russ and the other members of the new snowshoe team? Can’t believe that the Board voted to do THAT? Feeling frustrated and powerless to right this sinking ship and head for safer waters? Then VOTE for change! Run for the TNSAR Board! Nominate yourself (or your neighbor who owes you money) to be President, Vice President, or Secretary. That’s right folks, it’s election time at TNSAR. Now’s the time to be the change you want to see. It’s YOUR turn. The upcoming general meeting is your chance to get up on the bully pulpit and spread the gospel of YOU. Step right up, elections will be held (whether you like it or not) during the April meeting.

New Snowmobile Training Program…the industrious folks at SnowMo Central have put together a new training program for recruiting new riders. Here’s a sneak preview:

Know your snowmobile terrain. Whatever you do, avoid these. (Notice the track along the edge)


Just like a horse, always stay in control of your machine. Let it know who is boss. Whatever you do,

never get under your machine.

When in doubt, ride with others who are stronger than you,

preferably to pull you out of whatever predicament you may find yourself,

especially those who ride with extension ladders.

Business, unfortunately, is booming…TNSAR has been called out on so many searches during the last few weeks it is difficult to keep them in order. Please forgive my failing memory, but we responded to seven (7!) searches in March. I’m not positive but that, unfortunately, may well be a new record: March 5th: TNSAR was paged out for two missing snowshoers in Paige Meadows. This was the scene of the Wright/Malarkey episode that Gerald mentioned above. Whilst wandering in the winter wonderland, the two snowshoers became disoriented and ultimately called 911 as daylight waned. Four skiers, two snowshoers, three snowmobiles, and the Team snowcat responded and combed Paige Meadows for the two missing gals. After chasing various cell phone “ping” GPS points in vain, the skiers had the two women take a photo of their viewpoint in an effort to pinpoint their whereabouts. The photo was then emailed to one of the  skier’s iPhones. About that time, the snowmobile team radioed in that they had voice contact with the women. Ultimately, they were located on the opposite side of the meadow from the mis-directed cel phone “ping.” The two missing women were quickly whisked back to the trailhead aboard TNSAR Team Snowmobiles. On March 11th, TNSAR was called out to a mutual aid search in Nevada County for a missing 18 year old and his dog. Ten skiers, three snowmobiles, and the Team snowcat responded. The youth had disappeared from his Glenshire home two days before. His dog came home the following day. All teams were deployed in various locations around the Glenshire subdivision along with numerous teams from other outside agencies. The youth was found, deceased, shortly thereafter by a neighbor who was out searching a location near the boy’s home. Despite a somewhat troubled upbringing the young man was a promising freestyle skier. His passing was yet another tragedy for our local community. On March 20th, TNSAR was called out to assist 10 snowshoers in the McKinney-Rubicon backcountry, somewhere near the Ludlow Hut. Three skiers, two snowmobiles, and the Team snowcat responded. The group had initially planned to spend a wintry weekend at the Ludlow hut. Mother Nature decided to drop four plus feet of snow on Tahoe that same weekend. When the group departed the hut on Sunday, they found themselves wallowing in waist deep snow and were only able to travel 2 miles in 6 hours. That is when they called 911 for help. After several  hours of extreme route finding up the McKinney Creek drainage, the Team snowcat rendezvoused with the snowshoe group. They had been stumbling through the darkness for 12 hours and were quite relieved to see TNSAR’s smiling (and warm) faces in the snowcat. Armed with boxes of clifbars, snicker bars, and water, all 10 snowshoers were stuffed into the snowcat and transported out to the trailhead. The following day, March 21st, TNSAR was called out for yet another snowshoe rescue somewhere north of Basin Peak. The Team snowcat and two operators departed for Cisco Grove and deployed the snowcat for the long haul in to Basin Peak. About an hour later, the operators noticed that the snowcat’s alternator was malfunctioning and decided to head back to the trailhead before they too became stranded and needed assistance. Ultimately it was determined that there was a small electrical fire in the snowcat dashboard. Luckily no one was injured and the snowcat was repaired that evening. The missing snowshoers were rescued the following day by Nevada County SAR. The following night, March 22nd, TNSAR was called out for a missing skier at Sugarbowl. Eleven skiers, two snowmobiles, and the newly repaired Team snowcat responded. At the time of the callout, around 2:30am, there was no information about the skier’s last known whereabouts, so the first group of five skiers deployed for Roller Pass and a hasty search for tracks going down into Cold Stream Canyon. Conditions were harsh to say the least. The skiers never found any tracks off the east side of the crest but did find evidence of numerous recent avalanches. The skiers conducted beacon searches of all the slide paths but there was no sign of the missing skier. Shortly after dawn, an off-duty Sugarbowl parking attendant wandered into the command post at Sugarbowl and said that he was skiing with the missing person and the last known area they skied was in the vicinity of Crow’s Nest, well west of the deployed TNSAR skiers. Sugarbowl skipatrollers and an avalanche rescue dog departed for the Strawberry Fields ski run near the Crow’s Nest. Once in the field the avalanche dog immediately alerted and the deceased skier was located beneath 2-4 feet of fresh snow. A few days later, n March 26th, TNSAR was again called out to Sugarbowl for a missing snowboarder. Seven skiers and the Team snowcat responded. Ski patrollers had located tracks going off of Roller Pass but advised the search team to take an alternate route due to extreme avalanche conditions. In spite of hearing the missing victim calling for help, the searchers had no safe approach so they were forced to look for a safe way to get to the missing guy. Finally after a roundabout tour of the waist deep snow, the group located the missing snowboarder who was by now completely freaked out and damn near frozen in his boots. The group had to cut the snowboarder’s frozen clothing off so that they could re-dress him for the long haul back to the waiting snowcat. Two and a half freezing hours later the group rendezvoused with the warm snowcat and transported the victim to the ski resort lodge. Early the following morning, March 27th, TNSAR was called out for another out of county search at the Sierra at Tahoe ski resort above South Lake Tahoe. A 23 year old snowboarder went missing, allegedly in-bounds, the previous day. Six skiers and an avalanche rescue dog responded. TNSAR joined multiple mutual aid searchers from as far away as Marin County and Yuba County. Searchers were deployed all over the area in and around the ski resort. TNSAR’s task was to thoroughly search an in-bounds area of trees just below the victims last known point; basically that translated into a thorough search of tree wells. A few hours later and only a few hundred meters below our search area, the victim was indeed located in a tree well by Sierra at Tahoe ski patrollers. Based on a preliminary investigation of the scene it appeared that the snowboarder died of trauma rather than the widely speculated suffocation that is normally associated with tree well incidents. Either way, it was a tragic loss for the family.

Thus far… in the season TNSAR has responded to 15 searches. Of those, we have had five fatalities. In spite of all our collective efforts, all of the hours we have put in, the freezing temperatures, the hazardous conditions, and the hours away from our families, we are forced to come face to face with these losses. Unspeakable, tragic loss of life. Though it is extremely difficult for us to endure, these losses are infinitely more difficult for the family and friends of those who have died this winter. I know I speak for all of us when I say that TNSAR’s collective heart goes out to all those whose friends and family members have perished this season.

Eyes cast toward a brighter and warmer Spring….

B. Wright

The goal of TNSAR is to conduct fast and safe rescues, and to help educate the public on winter safety. If you would like to help TNSAR in this cause, please use the following PayPal donate link. Thanks!

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