A second avalanche death was reported at a Lake Tahoe-area ski resort Tuesday as heavy snow continued to fall in the Sierra Nevada and cold rain drenched the Sacramento Valley late Christmas Day.
Bill Foster, 53, a veteran member of the Alpine Meadows ski patrol team, died at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno after being caught in an intentionally triggered avalanche Monday, the ski area said in a news release.
"Bill was one of Alpine Meadows' very best and most experienced professional ski patrollers," with 28 years on the job, the ski resort's statement said.
Foster was caught in the avalanche about 10:45 a.m. Monday, when he and other team members triggered it with an explosive charge as part of avalanche-prevention measures in the resort's Sherwood Bowl area.
The area where Foster was stationed was believed to be safe, but the avalanche "broke much higher and wider on the slope than previously observed in past snow safety missions," the statement said.
Foster was buried in the avalanche.
He was found within a minute and uncovered within eight minutes, the ski resort said. Members of the ski patrol performed CPR, and Foster was taken by air ambulance to the Reno hospital, where he died.
The fatal accident occurred the same day that Steven Mark Anderson, a 49-year-old snowboarder from the Truckee area, was swept away and killed by an avalanche at Donner Ski Ranch, near Interstate 80.
He was found dead under 2 to 3 feet of snow in a debris field at the base of the mountain hours after he went missing Monday morning.
Both deaths occurred during a period of "considerable" avalanche danger, according to the Sierra Avalanche Center's website. The danger was highest on slopes steeper than 33 degrees due to "heavy snow loads sitting on a weak snowpack," it said.
"Large, destructive human triggered avalanches will remain likely," the center warned in a Christmas Eve posting. "Natural avalanches will remain possible. Dangerous avalanche conditions exist. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route finding, and conservative decision making are essential."
Karl Swanberg, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Sacramento, said up to 5 feet of new snow would cover the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada after a series of winter storms finishes moving through the area late tonight.
"The snowpack started out as not too impressive before this series of systems," Swanberg said, "but it's building rapidly now."
As snow fell in the mountains, rain drenched the lower elevations around Sacramento on Christmas afternoon and evening, bringing the rainfall total for the month to more than twice its normal level, the forecaster said.
The 6.31 inches of rain that fell through Dec. 25 was 230 percent of the normal 2.74 inches for the period, Swanberg said.
"It has been a rainy month." he said. "We've gotten much more jet stream energy swinging over Northern California,"
After several storms hit over the weekend, he said, "it continues to pile up."