Search and rescue teams were searching Monday for a 24-year-old Bellingham man who is missing at the Mt. Baker Ski Area, officials said.
Vitaliy Datskiy’s two friends reported him missing shortly after noon Sunday when he didn’t return to a designated meeting point near the bottom of the ski area’s Chair Three, said Whatcom County Undersheriff Jeff Parks.
“He got separated from (his friends) and didn’t show up to meet them,” Parks said. “They believe he’s still somewhere in the ski area.”
Duncan Howat, ski area president and general manager, said the Ski Patrol immediately began what’s called a “hasty search” of the most dangerous spots in the area where Datskiy was last seen.
Howat said the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue team was called, and volunteer search and rescue organizations were mobilized.
About 25 people scoured the area below Chair Six until after dark Sunday in heavy snow and high winds, Howat said.
More than 50 inches of snow has fallen in the area since Friday, according to a post Monday at the ski area’s online snow report.
Snow continued to fall Monday and the avalanche danger was rated high in the North Cascades, according to the Northwest Avalanche Center.
In addition, the ski area was warning of deep snow and “tree well” hazards that can collapse and trap skiers and snowboarders.
“He was last seen going under at the top of Chair 6, going under a rope line,” Howatt said. “He seemed to be headed toward some steep cliffs and a steeply treed area.”
Chair 6 is at Panorama Dome, the highest point in the ski area at nearly 5,100 feet. A map shows that below Pan Dome is an area marked “Extreme danger” and “Danger! Cliffs.”
Mt. Baker Ski Area was open Monday, except for its Heather Meadows area, below the search site.
Heather Meadows normally is closed weekdays, Howat said.
Both Parks and Howat said “pings” from Datskiy’s cellphone were received in the area, giving search teams an approximately one-mile search area.
Datskiy didn’t have an avalanche beacon, Howat said.
Friends found Datskiy’s vehicle at the White Salmon parking lot, so they’re confident he didn’t leave on his own.
Authorities said Datskiy’s family, who lives in the area, has been notified that he is missing.
He is the third snowboarder to disappear this winter season.
Drew Lenz and Jake Amancio of Bellingham vanished Nov. 12 in the Mount Baker wilderness outside ski area boundaries.
After a weeklong backcountry search, they are presumed dead, authorities said.
An avalanche killed a backcountry skier in January 2016 near Mount Herman in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Mt. Baker Ski Area last had a serious incident within its boundaries more than a decade ago, Howat said.
He said signs and ropes warn skiers and snowboarders of the dangers inherent in alpine skiing. Ski area officials continually maintain the slopes and conduct control measures to limit avalanche risk.
According to the Northwest Avalanche Center, the last avalanche-related incident within Mt. Baker Ski Area was in November 2005, when two snowboarders went out of bounds near Chair Six and were caught in a “soft slab” collapse.
One of them was buried but he was found alive within 15 minutes, using an avalanche beacon, according to an official report on the incident.