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Avalanche death due to unique conditions

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Posted: Tuesday, January 11, 2005

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The operator of a Nevada ski resort where a 13-year-old snowboarder was swept from a chairlift to his death by an avalanche said the slide appeared to be the result of a unique combination of circumstances.

''The magnitude, the amount of snow, and the amount of snow that was released at one time was unique to that chute in the 40 years of the resort,'' said Brian Strait, general manager of the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort

Avalanche control technicians spent Sunday morning detonating eight charges by cannon and four by hand on another slope. Strait said they did not work on the slope where snow gave way.

Strait said avalanches are common in the upper reaches of the ski area. Sunday's was much lower — about one-third up the mountain.

Investigators will try to determine whether rushing snow or an ''air blast'' pushed ahead of it swept the boy off the 20-foot-high lift, Strait said. Strait said the lift was stopped as the avalanche rushed toward it.

''We had eyewitness accounts that this young man was taken off the lift by the force of the avalanche,'' Las Vegas police Sgt. Chris Jones said. ''It caught him and the force of it took him.''

Other skiers yelled for help and those suspended in chairs watched while volunteers and Ski Patrol members started digging. Initially, they found the teen's snowboard and at least one boot, officials said, but it was six hours before a police dog led searchers to the boy's body buried beneath 6 to 10 feet of snow. He was asphyxiated, the Clark County coroner's office said Monday.

Police were handling the case as an accident, Jones said. Reopening the resort will be delayed until investigators look into the circumstances.

''It will remain closed until the cause is known and I can make absolutely certain that the area's safe for the public,'' said Tim Short, district ranger for the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area in the Humboldt-Toyabe National Forest. The ski area operates on a Forest Service permit.

The agency had issued an avalanche warning for the region, but exempted the ski area because it carries out avalanche control, Short said.

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On the Net:

Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort: http://www.skilasvegas.com

Spring Mountains National Recreation area: http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/htnf/districts/smnra/index.shtml



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