A Mercer Island native is being credited as one of a group of rescuers who found a young woman unharmed after being buried by an avalanche on Tuesday, Dec. 18, at Crystal Mountain ski resort near Enumclaw.
MIHS graduate Chad Robbs, 36, was reportedly skiing in the Northway portion of the ski area when he and a group of skiers were making their last run down the mountain at around 2 p.m. when they happened upon the avalanche debris field.
Three skiers were buried by the snow, said Robbs, along a ski run known as "I-5" — near the lower portion of the mountain — and considered "expert" terrain. Two men managed to dig themselves out, but a 19-year-old woman remained buried.
Robbs, a professional photographer in Salt Lake City, UT, and experienced backcountry skier, said he volunteered to help the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol because he carried an avalanche probe, a shovel and an emergency beacon.
According to the Associated Press, the 19-year-old didn't have an emergency beacon that the ski patrol could use to locate her, so rescuers fanned out in a line with probes, jamming them into the snow.
"The snow was so deep, it was difficult to move around (in)," he said. "She was yelling, (but) we could not hear anything — she was 2-3 feet under. Couldn't hear us, either."
After several minutes of checking and probing a number of tree wells, Robbs said he "finally had a lucky strike," and found her, breathing and conscious.
"All skiers need to be wearing a beacon at the least, so we can find them," Robbs said.
Ski patrol Director Paul Baugher said high winds and over 40 inches of snow since Monday was causing the dangerous conditions, according to KING 5 News. The woman was later checked by a doctor and found to be in good health.
Robbs said he's thankful she's alive. "She had no idea we were looking for her," he said.
The rescue reminded him of childhood friend David Pettigrew, a Mercer Island resident and classmate who was killed in a snowboarding accident in 2005 at Alpental. A foundation named in his honor recently completed construction of The David Pettigrew Mountain Safety and Education Center at Alpental, which holds free workshops concerning Mountain Safety, Avalanche Awareness, Companion Rescue, and Avalanche & Terrain Obervation Skills.
Robbs is the son of local Ewing & Clark real estate broker/principal Kris Robbs.