Update: Placer County suspends search indefinitely for missing Sugar Bowl ski instructor

The Placer County Sheriff’s Office suspended its search indefinitely for 23-year-old Sugar Bowl Resort ski instructor Carson May, citing high avalanche risks and heavy snow after five days of unsuccessful rescue efforts.

“Placer County sheriff’s personnel, Sugar Bowl representatives and chaplains met with the May family today, and it is with regret that we must suspend the efforts to locate Carson,” Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Dena Erwin said in a statement after several hours of searching Tuesday in severe weather.

Erwin said the Sheriff’s Office would conduct follow-up searches for May “should new information become available and environmental conditions allow.”

Heavy snow and limited visibility kept rescue crews at their command center for nearly two hours in the morning before taking up the search for May, a Davis resident. While the snow let up, searchers later had to contend with wind gusts up to 50 mph.

“They are wet and cold; these are miserable conditions,” said Placer County Sheriff Sgt. Dave Hunt. “It really does hinder search operations.”

May was last seen by his brother when they were skiing Thursday afternoon. Searchers were given an idea of his location from his brother, who said Carson was headed to his locker and likely took a backcountry route to get there. Rescue crews also received a signal from May’s phone that further indicated a backcountry location.

Since learning that information on their first day, “we’ve found no clues as to his whereabouts,” said Hunt, who likened the effort to looking for a needle in a haystack.

Based on the limited information they have, searchers think May was covered in an avalanche, stuck in a tree well or drowned in a creek, he said. He could conceivably survive in a tree well, which is made up of snow several feet deep, he said.

May’s family understood the decision to call off the search, Erwin said. But, she explained, “They are terribly upset. We all are. This is not the outcome we had hoped for.”

John Monson, a spokesman for Sugar Bowl Resort, said 4 to 6 inches of new snow fell Tuesday. “With new snow, the danger of avalanches increases,” he said.

May has spent the past three seasons as a Mountain Sports Learning Center ski school instructor and is a respected friend and colleague of many at the resort, Sugar Bowl officials said in a statement late Tuesday.

“Staff members and the Sugar Bowl community will be dealing with the impacts of this situation for some time,” the statement said. “First and foremost, however, our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go to the May family, who have been dealing with the unthinkable these past five days. The May family and Sugar Bowl will work together moving forward to try to find some sense of closure.”

Erwin said approximately 400 people participated in the five-day search, with 30 taking part Tuesday.

Crews have skied the backcountry area and done limited checks in the snow but have not been able to thoroughly search it because of avalanche risks. The Sierra Avalanche Center said the area had considerable avalanche risks Tuesday, which were predicted to get worse.

Searchers focused on Lake Mary, at the edge of Mount Judah, on Monday. They have covered most of the mountain’s west side in the resort’s boundaries. Hunt said he had no idea when the east side – where May could be – would be safe enough to thoroughly search.

Carson’s parents, including his father, who set a speed record for downhill skiing by a blind man, have been at Sugar Bowl since their son’s disappearance, Hunt said. They have periodically met with members of the search crew, though they were not ready to speak publicly Tuesday.

Before the search was called off Tuesday, Hunt said Carson’s parents were “preparing for the worst but hoping for the best.”

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