Around 11:45 a.m. on Thursday, a large in-bounds avalanche buried two skiers on Kachina Peak, at Taos Ski Valley, in northern New Mexico.
The skiers, both men, were recovered following a large search effort that involved Taos Ski Patrol, other Taos staff, and members of the public. One skier, identified as Corey Borg-Massanari, 22, who was visiting Taos from Vail, Colorado, was life-flighted to University of New Mexico Hospital, in Albuquerque. His family announced Monday that he had died of his injuries. The other skier, 26-year-old Matthew Zonghetti, from Massachusetts, was transported by ambulance to Holy Cross Hospital, in Taos, where he died of his injuries that evening, reports The Taos News.
The slide occurred in one of a series of steep chutes, known as the K-Chutes, on the north face of the 12,481-foot peak. Historically, the terrain was only accessible by hiking. In 2015, as part of a number of on-mountain improvements, a chairlift was installed to the top.
According to an eye witness, the two skiers dropped into the top of K-3, descending into the couloir. It’s unclear how far the skiers had descended when the slide released. The slide, which broke near the top all the way to the ground, ran almost the full length of the chute, several hundred vertical feet. It created a debris field that those on scene described as 50 yards wide and 150 yards long.
A ski patroller with an avalanche rescue dog who was among the first on scene quickly began organizing others nearby into a probe line. The search required rescuers to form a line across the top of the debris and systematically work their way down the slope, poking into the snow to find the buried skiers. Probe poles are stored in a nearby ski patrol hut for emergencies.
One Taos employee who was descending a run close to the incident traversed across to assist the rescues. “From the time the last snowflake of the slide settled to the time we’d organized the first probe line, it couldn’t have been more than five minutes,” the Taos employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told me on Thursday afternoon.
Within 15 minutes, more than 100 people had joined the search. The first skier was located, via probing, within approximately 15 minutes, and was reported to be under about six feet of snow. He was unconscious and received CPR at the site. The second skier was also located by a probe line after approximately 25 minutes, according to some witnesses. He was also unconscious and received CPR on location.
Taos ski patrol does aggressive avalanche mitigation on Kachina Peak and elsewhere around the ski area, and had detonated bombs on Kachina on Thursday morning near the run that slid. Taos Ski Valley opened to skiers this season on November 22, but the Kachina Peak Chair had only been open to skiers since Tuesday.
At a public brief on Thursday, David Norden, Taos Ski Valley CEO, praised the quick response of ski patrol and thanked the volunteers who assisted in the rescue, many of whom were at the meeting. Ted Wiard, a therapist and grief counselor also attended the meeting and encouraged those involved to share their experiences with others who’d been there. “These things are traumatic,” Wiard said. “It can stay with you for a long time.”