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Missing Sugar Bowl ski instructor comes from strong family tradition

Video: Rescue efforts continue for missing Sugar Bowl ski instructor

Sgt. Dave Hunt of the Placer County Sheriff's Office talks about the rescue efforts for the missing Sugar Bowl ski instructor.
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Sgt. Dave Hunt of the Placer County Sheriff's Office talks about the rescue efforts for the missing Sugar Bowl ski instructor.

The search for 23-year-old ski instructor Carson May continued at 8 a.m. Monday at Sugar Bowl ski resort, according to the Placer County Sheriff's office.

Fifty searchers from 10 different search and rescue teams and ski patrols headed back out into weather conditions that are expected worsen. Placer County Sheriff's Office reports there will be two helicopters, two snowcats and six snowmobiles involved in the search if weather permits.

Sixty searchers were unable to locate May on Sunday. He was last seen skiing Thursday afternoon.

Nearly 16 years ago, Mike May of Davis saw his wife and two young children for the first time when bandages were removed from his eyes following a pioneering surgery that partially restored his eyesight, according to media accounts at the time.

Blinded at age 3 in a chemical explosion, May already had set the world’s speed record for downhill skiing by a blind individual. After his revolutionary transplant and stem-cell procedure in 2000, May, a Davis business executive, continued to be an inspiring figure and was the subject of the 2007 book “Crashing Through.”

In recent days, though, the May family has faced perhaps its most formidable challenge as search-and-rescue teams continued to scour the unstable, snow-covered landscape around Sugar Bowl ski resort for 23-year-old Carson May. Carson, the older son of Mike and Jennifer May, has been missing since Thursday.

Authorities in Placer County said avalanche danger remained high Sunday as more than 40 searchers pressed on in their hunt for the lost ski instructor, last seen Thursday afternoon when he was off-duty and skiing at the resort. A sighting of tracks leading into a recent snowslide area near Sugar Bowl led searchers back to the spot at dawn Sunday, and Placer County sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Hunt said in the late afternoon they would press “until they are exhausted.” After ending the search at 6:15 p.m., rescue crews were to resume the hunt early Monday morning.

Searchers in bright red ski jackets boarded chairlifts Sunday alongside holiday weekend skiers as heavy, wet snow fell on the resort and icy winds whipped it sideways. Avalanche dogs aided in their efforts. Two helicopters were on standby Sunday to help in the search, but poor wind and weather conditions kept them grounded.

Weather is likely to be a continuing factor. More snow is expected to fall this week in the region of the Sierra Nevada that includes Sugar Bowl as more storm systems move through, according to the National Weather Service. Forecaster Nathan Owen said 10 to 15 inches of snowfall is expected by Monday night, and another 4 to 8 inches through Wednesday morning.

More systems are expected to arrive later in the week, he said, but “we don’t have a grasp yet of the snow for those systems.” Winds also are expected as the fronts pass through, Owen said.

John Monson, director of sales and marketing for Sugar Bowl, said May is an instructor with the resort’s Mountain Sports Learning Center ski school, providing lessons to customers of varying ski levels.

On Sunday, Lt. Troy Sander of the Placer County Sheriff’s Office said the search team was homing in on an area of a “large slide.” Sander said another skier had reported seeing tracks leading into that avalanche area, which is in an out-of-bounds section near the resort.

The area also corresponds with “pings” authorities received earlier from May’s cellphone, although communication has since ceased and searchers suspect the ski instructor’s phone battery has died.

Later Sunday, Sander said crews found evidence of a second slide in the area, creating a zone some 185 yards wide that had to be searched using probe sticks.

“You’re talking about really steep terrain covered in four to six feet of snow,” he said. “It’s just really problematic for us to make a lot of good progress.”

Sander did say authorities are “trying to remain optimistic he’s hunkered down somewhere.”

May was last seen skiing at the resort Thursday afternoon. He failed to show up for his ride home, and it was discovered Friday morning that he had not returned home during the night. Sheriff’s officials said May’s personal belongings were found in his locker at the resort. He was last seen wearing a blue Columbia jacket, bright green pants and a blue helmet.

Hunt said May had been skiing at the resort Thursday with his younger brother, Wyndham, but the two became separated. Hunt said most chairlifts at the resort are equipped with cameras, and Carson May was photographed getting off one chairlift Thursday around 2 p.m. According to his habit, he would have skied to the bottom of that slope, taken another lift up, then skied through some trees to return to his locker, according to Hunt. The second lift, however, did not have a camera and investigators cannot confirm that he actually boarded the second chairlift, Hunt said.

Authorities have been told May typically would ski Sugar Bowl slightly out of bounds through a tree line, and then come back inbounds and make his way down to the lodge, Sander said.

Hunt confirmed that family members had gathered at the resort but said they did not wish to speak with media.

Since Mike May’s surgery and publication seven years later of “Crashing Through,” by author Robert Kurson, the family’s story has been featured in a number of news stories and broadcast outlets. Skiing is a shared passion among family members. The brothers reportedly were members of their high school ski team in Davis.

In a 2004 oral history interview by the American Foundation for the Blind, Mike May said that he met his future wife and mother of his two children while skiing. He said the couple started the boys skiing when they were 2.

“And our boys are now excellent skiers, better skiers than we are,” May said in the interview, published online.

Marjie Lundstrom: 916-321-1055, @MarjieLundstrom

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