A fourth day of searching Monday failed to turn up a 23-year-old ski instructor who has been missing since he was last seen skiing at a Donner Pass resort.
While clear skies enabled an aerial search for Carson May of Davis, snow conditions precluded a ground sweep of an area where he’s thought to be in the backcountry of Sugar Bowl ski resort in Norden.
More than 40 rescuers from across the state participated in the search, and officials did not want to risk injuries in an avalanche, said Sgt. Dave Hunt of the Placer County Sheriff’s Department. The rescue effort continued as holiday skiers crowded the resort, many of them wondering if May would survive.
“We’re very disappointed we couldn’t find Carson,” Hunt said.
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Sugar Bowl provided a grief counselor for May’s co-workers, but employees are trying to remain optimistic he might be found alive, said John Monson, director of sales and marketing at Sugar Bowl.
Officials have secured rescue crews to continue the search through Wednesday, when a decision will have to be made about how to continue, Hunt said. The effort is being considered an “active rescue” and not a body recovery. May might have survival skills such as knowing to stay hydrated with snow, he said.
René Dewarrat, one of May’s co-workers at Sugar Bowl, said May could only have been harmed by a “freak accident” because he is an expert skier.
“It happens too often, but that’s the sport,” he said.
The Sierra Avalanche Center said the region faced considerable avalanche risks Monday, and in some cases “avalanches could be large and destructive.”
Such risks are particularly acute at Sugar Bowl, which is known for getting more snow than most places in the Tahoe region, and especially during a winter with more snow than the region has had in years.
May is thought to have gone missing in a backcountry location where skiers enjoy ungroomed powder but also face greater avalanche risks. Backcountry skiing has grown in popularity in Tahoe and elsewhere.
The weather pattern in recent days – snow, rain and then freezing water – has accentuated the avalanche risk because the snow is more unstable, Hunt said.
May was last seen by his brother when they were skiing Thursday afternoon at Sugar Bowl, where he works at the Mountain Sports Learning Center ski school, Hunt said. He wanted to return to his locker to get a ski mask, and the route he is believed to have taken goes through the backcountry just off the ski resort, Hunt said.
Heavy snowfall made visibility difficult Thursday, and May might have made a wrong turn, Hunt said.
Rescue crews have been searching for May since Friday. The search has concentrated on Mount Judah, elevation 8,238.
Rescuers have skied the backcountry area where May is thought to have gone and have used avalanche probes to find him in the snow.
They have not been able to do a thorough “grid search” to examine one area where he might be because of avalanche risk, May said. Such a search was conducted in a forested area nearby, called the Pacific Crest Glades, but nothing was found.
A California Highway Patrol helicopter flew over the mountain Monday morning and afternoon before clouds apparently ended the aerial search. A California National Guard helicopter searched in the late afternoon.
May has worked as an instructor at Sugar Bowl for three years. His father, Mike May, broke a world speed record for downhill skiing by a blind individual. His parents have declined to speak to the media about their son’s disappearance.