Search and Rescue on Gore Mtn: 2/28/10

Search Rescue Gore Mountain

This NCPR Story is an interview with Steve Ovitt, ranger for the Siamese Ponds Wilderness. He discusses Sunday’s rescue of six skiers who went out-of-bounds off the Chatiemac side of Gore.

Darkside Shaman is not a member of Gore Patrol, or Search and Rescue. He’s an accomplished and fit backcountry skier, who owns a pair of fat skis and climbing skins, and was in position to help:

“Six people, a 17 yr old, 2 twenty-somethings, and the Father and 2 kids all went in ABOVE the s-turns on Chatiemac, roughly parallel with the Rumor goat path over on Hawkeye.

This decision by all of the individuals shows that they had no clue at all as to where they were going as they were doomed from the start to be on the wrong side of The Highline. There was NEVER a conscious decision that they were going to go to Rt 8.

The 17 year old used his cell phone to call and say he was lost. He then met up with the twenty somethings, who were also lost, and then they all met up with the Father and kids. The first “group of 3” decided that they were going to ski towards some lights that they saw out towards Chatiemac Lake.

They were eventually tracked down by the NYS Rangers at around 6pm, and led out to safety. The father and the 2 kids had previously split apart from that group, and the father then called his wife to tell her he was lost, and they were eventually tracked down by Jeff and Tara.

As Jeff and Tara tried to evacuate them, it was obvious that the kids were spent, and Jeff made the decision to split the group and go for more help. This decision, in my mind, saved the kids’ lives.

Jeff finally made it out to Tannery near lift 10, but this was no easy venture. For a few hours, Jeff toiled his way through deep snow with the Father in tow, with only the aid of fireworks noise, and groomer back up alarms as a guide. It should be noted that other patrollers, and the NYS Rangers were all out searching for both parts of the group during this period as well.

When Jeff made it out, 3 Rangers backtracked on his route up to the other group with food, water, and warm clothes for the kids. The Rangers were also able to start a fire which additionally helped the kids to rejuvenate for their rescue.

These Rangers were able to communicate their coordinates, and the final rescue was mapped out. At approximately 10pm, another group of us headed to the summit, and out The Highline. The group was found and evacuated to a waiting groomer on Chatiemac at around 1:45am.

As a BC skier and someone who participated in the rescue, it’s my opinion that the father is to blame for this situation. He “thought” he knew what he was doing because he has “woods on his property in Westchester.” I say fine them, but the law is vague in NYS in these instances.

Those kids would have died IMO due to hypothermia, dehydration, and exhaustion, if not for the efforts of Jeff and Tara, as well as the NYS Rangers and the numerous locals. I am curious of how the law would handle a situation like this if someone were to be seriously injured or to die, due to someone’s negligence.

Just one more side note. To say that I was impressed by the professionalism displayed by Gore Mountain patrol, the Rangers, and all of the local volunteers would be the understatement of the year. We are very lucky to live where we do!”

22 comments on “Search and Rescue on Gore Mtn: 2/28/10

  1. Great Job by the Gore Patrol and the rangers. I cringed when I read one of the young guy’s reports on skiadk saying some kids had gone to rte 8 and had their dad pick them up. I would like to know if that one is really true. Rte 8 is not right there. You actually would have to really know what you are doing to get to rte 8. Cross Black Mountain brook, pick up the second pond trail (if you even recognize it buried under new snow) to Chatiemac Road and out to 8? Doubtful that lost kids could pull that off.

    Anyway, glad to hear about coordinating rescue agencies. There have been a bunch of close calls over the last 10 years or so. This sounds like the most serious. And I can only imagine that more are likely.

  2. Oh yeah. Hey Harv, you like to get a lot of days, you like to go bell to bell, and you already ski with a butt bag. You ought to join the Gore Patrol!!! Seriously!

  3. I’ve learned from skiing in the woods that distances can be a lot farther than they look on the map. The distance from the Gore summit to Chatiemac Road is probably no farther than the Summit to the base lodge on Cloud + Sunway. But it’s a whole different game out there.

    And topos can oversimplify the terrain. What looks like pure downhill can be undulating. On fixed heel gear, in deep snow, that can be really tough.

  4. I’ve done the trek from the top of Gore down across Black Mtn Pond down to Chatiemac Rd and Rte 8. If you just keep going downhill/downstream, you’ll eventually get there. It takes a few hours. Knowing what direction you are going, especially around the pond, it key, as that is the flat area, but to know to go away from the mountain will get you there eventually. Can be a bushwack, but if you are persistent you’ll get there.

  5. As a BC skier and someone who participated in the rescue, the Father is absolutely to blame for this situation. He “thought” he knew what he was doing because he has “woods on his property in Westchester?!” I say fine them, but the law is vague in NYS in these instances.

    Those kids would have died IMO due to hypothermia, dehydration, and exhaustion, if not for the Herculean efforts of Jeff and Tara, as well as the NYS Rangers and the numerous locals. I am curious of how the law would handle a situation like this if someone were to be seriously injured or to die, due to someone’s negligence.

    Now for a ski report: Rick and I left the Barton Mines Rd trail head at about 6:45 last night and headed up the Raymond Brook trail to the Col. The trail had seen a lot of traffic as evidenced by the well broke trail.
    🙂

    We dropped off the col and proceeded down towards the first bridge. Just before the bridge we turned left and headed down. From here we were bushwacking along the northwest ridge of Raymond Brook with headlamps lighting the way. The skiing was really good and man there is a lot of snow. We were able to stay up on the top of the snow as well. I was testing the new Voile Drifters and Rick was on the Voile Asylums, courtesy of The Source. My impressions are that as we all know, fat skis rule, but fat skis with rocker are awesome! We got to the Riverwood parking area in just under 2 hours, and I must say it was a great night of skiing!

  6. Shaman … good to hear from you and to get some firsthand info from someone who was there. From your account it sounds like there was no intent to head towards Rte 8 – at least not by the final group of three. I’d be curious to know where they went in too.

    I’ve done that Raymond Brook ski too. Some nice trees back there. Glad you are getting some good skiing this year.

  7. Actually all 6 people, a 17 yr old, 2 twenty-somethings, and the Father and 2 kids all went in ABOVE the s-turns on Chatiemac, roughly parallel with the rumor goat path over on Hawkeye. This decision by all of the individuals shows that they had no clue at all as to where they were going as they were doomed from the start to be on the wrong side of The Highline. There was NEVER a conscious decision that they were going to go to Rt 8.

    The 17 year old used his cell to call and say he was lost. He then met up with the twenty somethings, who were also lost, and then they all met up with the Father and kids. The first “group of 3” decided that they were going to ski towards some lights that they saw out towards Chatiemac Lake. They were eventually tracked down by the NYS Rangers at around 6pm, and led out to safety. The Father and the 2 kids had previously split apart from that group, and the Father then called his wife to tell her he was lost, and they were eventually tracked down by Jeff and Tara.

    As Jeff and Tara tried to evacuate them, it was obvious that the kids were spent, and Jeff made the decision to split the group and go for more help. This decision, in my mind, saved the kids lives. Jeff finally made it out to Tannery near lift 10, but this was no easy venture.

    For a few hours, Jeff toiled his way through deep snow with the Father in tow, with only the aid of fireworks noise, and groomer back up alarms as a guide. It should be noted that other patrollers, and the NYS Rangers were all out searching for both parts of the group during this period as well.

    When Jeff made it out, 3 Rangers backtracked on his route up to the other group with food, water, and warm clothes for the kids. The Rangers were also able to start a fire which additionally helped the kids to rejuvenate for their rescue.
    These Rangers were able to communicate their coordinates, and the final rescue was mapped out. At approximately 10pm, another group of us headed to the summit, and out The Highline. The group was found and evacuated to a waiting groomer on Chatiemac at around 1:45am. Happy ending, this time…

  8. Just one more side note. To say that I was impressed by the professionalism displayed by our patrol, the Rangers, and all of the local volunteers would be the understatement of the year! We are very lucky to live where we do!

  9. Gore management is well aware that some people access off-the-map “sidecountry” areas from designated ski trails. It is my observation that the vast majority of skiers utilizing these areas do so with a great deal of personal responsibility, respect and discretion.

    From the published accounts and the additional information provided by DS Shaman, the actions of the adult individuals requiring rescue on Sunday seem inexcusable. I’d prefer to see the mountain adopt a policy such as MRG’s. Such a policy might include the following provisions and could be posted in the base lodge and at the top of certain lifts:

    “Skiers choosing to leave the designated ski trails at Gore should note that the woods are neither “open” nor “closed.” They are not marked, maintained or patrolled. Many hazards exist. Users leaving the designated ski trails at Gore do so at their own risk and must enter from and exit to open designated trails only and ski / travel in groups of 3 or more. Know where you are going at all times, and do not assume that the tracks of others lead back to the ski area.”

    Policy or no policy, stupid people will continue to do stupid things. My hope is that a stated policy might prevent others from being needlessly put at risk, as happened Sunday night, and still maintain the current access that adds so much vitality to Gore for responsible, knowledgeable users.

  10. Harvey shoots off his big mouth when he doesn’t know the facts.

    I was also there on Sunday. Fact: the father did NOT lead the kids into the woods, but went in to find him when he saw his tracks (And DID find him). Would you not due the same if it was your kid? So stop calling the guy an idiot what he DID do wrong is bringing the other kid with him, instead of having him continue on the trail to the base.

  11. Note, just to clarify: I am NOT the Jeff involved in the rescue effort described by DS Shaman above. The NYS forest rangers and volunteers who were involved certainly deserve our thanks and respect.

  12. Hey blzr25, no one is throwing stones here. The lesson to be learned in this situation, is do not be a part of the problem, be a part of the solution. If the Father’s child went without him, the Father SHOULD have contacted patrol immediately, rather then going after him with his other child. Looking at it from this side, it is pretty easy to figure out who made the wrong decision.

  13. Blzr25, It is disturbing that you think that Harvey “shot off his big mouth” at anything or anyone. By the looks of your post, it seems you aren’t quite on the ball and aren’t comprehending the comments here. Don’t blast Harvey. He’s a decent guy and never says anything bad about anyone. I hope you will apologize to him. Afterall, this is his blog, which is a great forum for skiers.

  14. I agree PDQ, people should not sit at their computer and talk about what happened without knowing the facts. I will give a full description of the search tomorrow when I have some time. Tara and I found the father and the 2 kids. This evening I am doing leg presses so the next time I have to look for someone it won’t suck so bad.

  15. JP, I applaud your heroic efforts!! Looking forward to your report. Hope to see you this weekend.

  16. Just wanted to add one thing…I took a look a the topography when I heard they were found at Siamese Ponds Wilderness, and see that they likely chose the wrong direction at Chatiemac Pond and went down the Diamond Brook drainage instead of down to Chatiemac Rd. Having been there, I can see how this would be an easy mistake to make, especially if they were losing light. I’m sure they felt quite small in a large forest. I know I did when I was there, but at least I was with locals and people who knew where to go.

  17. I don’t know the facts. That’s why I posted this piece. I was hoping that those who were there, who know what really happened, could shed some light.

    One thing: As a father, I can understand the motivation to go ANYWHERE after a child in danger. It chokes me up just thinking about.

    It would be interesting to hear what Mr. Trotta has to say. And of course JP.

  18. Hey JP, you’re not so anonymous!

    From where I am (hundreds of miles away, at my computer, with no facts) it sounds like a hell of an evening. No doubt physically exhausting, mentally draining, exhilarating, nerve-wracking, and maybe even a lil bit FUN. Hopefully the whole experience reinforces your decision to take a job with lots of certifications, qualifications, responsibilities, liabilities and occassional mind-numbing tedium and boredom, and to do it for incredibly modest wages, fresh air and maybe some comradeship. Kudos and cheers to you, sir! I miss Gore!

  19. I was one of the skiers that was lost out there that evening. We entered off of the top of what I now know is Chatiemac. We initially went into the woods at the very top of the run and saw a sign that said “Ski area boundary” so we turned back onto the main run and skied down a couple hundred yards until we saw a well warn trail heading into the woods. We followed that trail in and made a couple of turns and dropped a couple of small cliffs and found ourselves in a drainage where there were a couple of tracks. At no point did we see any tree line or signs marking a ski area boundary. There were some tracks that continued down the drainage and we started to follow them but really didn’t feel like we were heading in the right direction, so we attempted to climb back up the side of the drainage. The snow was deep to the point that it was impossible to move if you were not in your skis, but the brush was so think and the drainage so steep that it was almost impossible to side step up the ridge.

    At this point we decided that we would follow the drainage down because there were already some tracks continuing down the drainage so we assumed that someone else had been down through there and we just might have a long walk to get out. We had no idea that we were in a second drainage that was running directly away from the mountain and heading into the heart of the woods. We continued to follow the tracks that were already laid in the drainage and eventually came upon another lost skier who had telephoned his father and ski patrol and told them that he was lost. At this point we decided to make a fire and just stay where we were as the sun was beginning to set and we had no idea if we would be found that night.

    I can again say with 100% honesty that there was never any intention on our part to leave the ski area, and I am completely and utterly grateful for the efforts of the New York State Forest Rangers in finding us that evening. I understand that to the majority of the people that are going to read about this we are just some idiots who put themselves in harms way, but I can honestly say that I have spent a lot of time in the woods and a lot of time backcountry skiing. I fully appreciate the dangers that exist when I put myself into those situations, but on Sunday we thought we were skiing an in bounds gladed area, and by the time we realized we weren’t we couldn’t get back.

  20. SAR, at least from what I know, and this depends from mountain to mountain, are generally paid by donations from the community. Also, they are mostly made up of volunteers. There was a cover story for Backcountry Magazine last month about this.

  21. Thanks to the poster who was involved for giving us more insight into the incident. I think it’s important to remember that there were six people lost and each one is in a unique situation.

    The anonymous poster above did one thing right. When you are lost and have no idea where you are going, stay put. Not sure I would have done it, but it is definitely the right move if you couldn’t follow your own tracks back.

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