Body of missing Washington skier found

The search for an experienced backcountry skier missing since last Tuesday has ended, after her body was located Saturday at the bottom of a 1,500-foot drop at Snoqualmie National Forest’s Red Mountain, near Washington’s Alpental ski resort. Washington’s Sky Valley Journal reports that it is believed that 40-year-old Monika Johnson of Seattle was standing unawares on a cornice that broke off, and that her body was covered by snow after she fell. The search efforts were also hampered by bad weather. Retrieval of the body will be at a later date, when conditions permit.

Johnson’s body was located by BARK (Backcountry Avalanche Rescue K-9’s), an Alpental-based, non-profit, volunteer mountain rescue organization of ski patrollers, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) avalanche workers, and their trained canine companions. I spent a day with BARK last February, observing and participating in avalanche drills with the dogs, for this Gadling feature.

To support search-and-rescue/recovery efforts such as Johnson’s, or make a general donation to BARK, email For more information on canine search-and-rescue, contact the National Search Dog Alliance.

In Washington state, search continues for missing skier

The search for an experienced backcountry skier missing since Tuesday afternoon has resumed in Washington state, after being postponed Wednesday night due to darkness and poor conditions. The Seattle woman was skiing alone in the Red Mountain Area of Snoqualmie National Forest, near Alpental ski resort. Seattle’s King 5 News reports that after the woman failed to show up at work on Wednesday, her friends were contacted, and King County Search and Rescue launched a full-scale hunt. Another skier located the woman’s backpack and glove on Wednesday, and her car was also found in the ski area parking lot.

Concerns of avalanche danger are high, due to increasing temperatures. Deputy Ed Christian of King County Search and Rescue commented, “We have the best searchers in the state here and we may not even put them in the field…that’s how dangerous it is… We haven’t had the opportunity to search with probes due to the conditions and lack of light. She could be under the snow. She could have gone down further, said Christian. “Until we get enough light we don’t know where she’s at.”

The sheriff office’s helicopter spotted ski gear and what looked to be fresh snow slide activity off the backside of Red Mountain yesterday, while another group of searchers found additional clothing and debris, diminishing hopes of finding the woman alive. One theory is that she may have plummeted from a cornice that broke off. The search is now being considered a recovery mission.

Folks, please be careful out there when engaging in backcountry winter pursuits, and always carry an avalanche beacon and let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Winter outdoor enthusiasts should take an avalanche safety course (REI is one place that offers them for free, and I’ll vouch for how informative they are), and check snow and weather conditions before setting off for a day of recreation.

Utah’s Powder Mountain adds 1000 more skiable acres for 2010

When it comes to giant ski resorts, it’s difficult to top Powder Mountain in Utah. The already impressively sized resort added another 1000 acres this year, bringing its total to over 7000, which gives it the most skiable terrain of any resort in the U.S. The expansion means that resort now covers three mountains and offers 135 different runs, ensuring that there is something to ski for every skill level.

The 1000 acre expansion has been named La Plata in honor of a nearby ghost town that sprung up during the silver rush of the late 1800’s, and was later abandoned when the ore ran dry. Designed mostly for expert skiers, this new offering requires visitors to join a guided tour or purchase a “backcountry upgrade” to gain access to the generally untouched and pristine powder that is found there. The area is so remote in fact, it can only be accessed by taking a ride in Snowcat, a tracked vehicle specially designed for traveling through the snow.

The calendar may still read September and the weather reminds us that it is still summer, but the ski season isn’t as far away as you would think. Powder Mountain generally opens in mid-November, and with an average of more than 500 inches of annual snowfall, you won’t have to settle for the artificial stuff. The resort offers a nice mix of untracked powder and groomed runs, with plenty to options to keep skiers and snowboarders coming back for years. Season passes are now available for the 2010-2011 season.

[Photo Credit: Bailypalblue via WikiMedia]