Storms hamper search efforts for missing snowboarder

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The search continued Wednesday for a missing Alpine Meadows ski resort snowboarder, with blizzard conditions hampering search and rescue efforts. The Placer County Sheriff’s Office was leading a search for 25-year-old Shawnte Willis of Tahoma. Willis was last seen snowboarding off the backside of Alpine Meadows at about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Capt. Jeff Ausnow said. The search started at about 5:30 p.m. after Willis’ boyfriend reported the woman missing. Efforts continued through the late afternoon Wednesday but Willis had not been located. Ausnow said the search was complicated by blizzard conditions overnight and the potential for avalanches. Efforts to resume the search Wednesday with the aid of helicopters were hampered by high winds, Ausnow said. “Weather conditions prevented us from using helicopters during today’s search and the break in the weather we were hoping for before nightfall never occurred,” Ausnow said in a news release Wednesday evening. “Currently the weather is starting to clear and we expect clearer weather (Thursday).” At approximately 8 p.m. Wednesday, a National Guard helicopter was scheduled to search the area using Forward Looking Infrared Technology. “This will be the first opportunity that search teams have had to utilize air support,” Ausnow said in the release. A dozen members of the Placer County Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue team of cross-country ski squad searched Tuesday until heavy winds and snow forced them to make a snow camp for the night. They were replaced Wednesday morning by a team of 15 fresh search and rescue personnel wearing snowshoes. The fact that Willis was dressed in waterproof snowboarding pants, gloves and jacket would assist the missing woman in surviving a cold night outdoors in blizzard conditions, Ausnow said. Rachael Woods, Alpine Meadows spokeswoman, said 20 inches of snow fell overnight but the storm had passed by morning and the ski area was experiencing partly cloudy skies. By the afternoon, more storms had reached the Sierra’s higher region, producing more snow and making search efforts increasingly difficult.