The Mt. Shasta Ski Park was crowded over the weekend as dozens of trained volunteers descended on the mountain to assist in the search for 23 year old Alex Gautreaux, who had been snowboarding at the park on Thursday.

The Mt. Shasta Ski Park was crowded over the weekend as dozens of trained volunteers descended on the mountain to assist in the search for 23 year old Alex Gautreaux, who had been snowboarding at the park on Thursday.

Searchers from 27 agencies all over northern California and southern Oregon combed the Ski Park for more than 60 hours while searching for Gautreaux, who was found deceased at approximately 9 a.m. Sunday morning on the backside of Coyote run, at 6,800 feet in elevation.

The Sheriff’s Department reported that Gautreaux was found 100 feet outside the Ski Park boundaries.
That is technically correct, but Ski Park owner Chuck Young clarified that Alex was “in a place that is commonly used by all levels of skiers and ’boarders... a safe area to be.” Young said the Park grooms an area just below where Alex was found so that riders can get back to the lift.

Though the search ended sadly, Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey said he was “extremely impressed and proud of the work that was done by everyone in this operation.”

The Sheriff’s Department said its Search and Rescue team was assisted by Search and Rescue teams from Jackson, Shasta, Klamath, Lassen, Josephine, and San Mateo counties and the US Forest Service. Nordic ski teams from Mt. Shasta Ski Park, Marin County, Crater Lake, Ore., and Lake Tahoe and the Oregon National Guard also pitched in during the course of the multi-day rescue operation, Lopey said.
Captain Jim Betts said at one point, 75 searchers were active at the Ski Park.

When the weather allowed, a California Highway Patrol helicopter flew overhead in attempt to spot Gautreaux. CAL FIRE contributed infrared technology to help searchers carry on in the dark, and dogs trained to sniff out people buried in the snow were used in conjunction with cell phone technology to help locate Gautreaux.

“Verizon was incredibly cooperative,” said Siskiyou County Sheriff spokesperson Allison Giannini. Though at first there was some miscommunication as to what was needed to assist in the search, Giannini said once Verizon learned of the circumstance, they did all they could to help.

Betts said they were “pinging” Gautreaux’s cell phone throughout the search, but there was only one cell tower to use, making it impossible to triangulate his exact location.

“Verizon helped immensely. We asked them to shut down a cell tower, and the request quickly climbed to corporate, who agreed to do so. Rumors to the opposite are not true,” Betts emphasized.

Gautreaux’s family first became concerned when he didn’t return home several hours after sending a text message to say he would be taking one last run at 12:30 p.m. Thursday.

The Mt. Shasta Ski Park  ski patrol began searching that afternoon, and when his vehicle remained in the parking lot at 7 p.m., the Sheriff’s Department became involved in the search, Lopey said.

The search effort on Thursday night and in the early hours of Friday was hampered by fog, freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall, Lopey explained. Snow Cats, snowmobiles and searchers on skis and on foot were utilized.

“Virtually every conceiveable area Alexander might have been was searched” that night, said Lopey, who rode along on a Snow Cat with a member of the ski patrol until 3 a.m. Friday morning.

Volunteers were urged to go in pairs and were often searching in areas with several feet of fresh snow which often went up to their chests.

Betts explained that though searchers had already searched the area where Gautreaux was eventually found Sunday morning, he was completely covered in snow. When he was finally located upside down in a tree well, the only visible sign was the bottom of his snowboard, which was white.

During the search effort, Ski Park operations manager Jason Young praised the community for their support.

“We have people coming up who just want to help,” Young said on Saturday. “Shasta Mountain Guides personnel just showed up. We didn’t even have to ask.”

Lopey held out hope Gautreaux would be found alive until his body was located Sunday morning.

In a press release issued late Saturday afternoon, Lopey said Gautreaux “may be injured or lost on the mountain.” He added Gautreaux was physically fit, wearing adequate winter clothing, was familiar with the mountain environment and had a strong motivation to survive. “We are using every available and imaginable resource to locate this young man and bring him home to his family,” he said.

Lopey said mutual aid agreements with neighboring counties is something that “works extremely well” with budget constraints. Because it was necessary to search such a large area, Lopey said they welcomed all the manpower they could get.

While the search was taking place Saturday afternoon, the life of a 20 year old snowboarder from Chico was saved, according to Paul Hosler, the Ski Park’s ski patrol director.

Hosler was “boarding the face of Douglas under the Douglas chair” at approximately 4:15 p.m. when patrollers riding on the chairlift above saw him fall headfirst into a tree well. They immediately alerted rescuers, and five people successfully dug the young man out.

By the time he was pulled from the tree well, he was in respiratory distress, Chuck Young said.

“We got him on oxygen, and by the time we got him down he was able to sign a release saying he didn’t want to go to the hospital,” Hosler said. “I don’t know if he realized what a close call that was.”

“If this young man had been alone, the outcome could potentially have been very different,” said Betts.

In the wake of the tragedy, which was only the second fatality at the Ski Park in its 25 year history, many in the snow riding community are stressing the importance of being with a partner when the snow is soft and deep.

The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department recommends that snow riders “remain on marked paths, trails and runs. Do not go above groomed areas or anywhere that may be hazardous. We also recommend skiing with a partner.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Gautreaux family in this tragic time,” Lopey said in a statement released Sunday morning. “We remained hopeful throughout the search mission that we would be able to return Alexander to his wife and family. I am extremely impressed and proud of the work that was done by everyone in this operation. We were assisted by so many allied agencies and private businesses such as the Ski Park that donated time, fuel and food to the operation. There is not an adequate way (we) could possibly show our gratitude to those that assisted and supported our SAR team, it was truly an amazing response and effort.”