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‘It’s very treacherous:’ Rugged conditions in search for missing snowboarder

Officials talk about search for missing Bellingham snowboarder

Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue team, the Ski Patrol and volunteers continue to look for snowboarder Vitaliy Datskiy, 24, in the Mount Baker Ski Area Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. He was reported missing Sunday near the ski area’s Pano
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Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue team, the Ski Patrol and volunteers continue to look for snowboarder Vitaliy Datskiy, 24, in the Mount Baker Ski Area Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. He was reported missing Sunday near the ski area’s Pano

A search continued Tuesday for a Bellingham snowboarder missing since Sunday at the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

Vitaliy Datskiy, 24, was reported missing shortly after noon Sunday when he didn’t meet his companions at the bottom of a run from Chair Six near the ski area’s popular Panorama Dome.

“We’re going to put in another day,” said Duncan Howat, ski area president and general manager. “We’re bringing in a search dog. We can’t get into the steep areas, but maybe into the runouts at the bottom. That’s our main focus now.”

Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue team, the Ski Patrol and volunteer units have been scouring the steep hillsides below Chair Six, where Datskiy was last seen ducking under a rope marking a danger zone, the sheriff’s office said.

Datskiy is a 2011 graduate of Meridian High School, where he was a standout soccer player.

“Heading up for day three of our search. We have and will continue to work tirelessly to find this guy,” the volunteer Bellingham Mountain Rescue Council tweeted at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Some 11 inches of snow fell Monday and Tuesday at the ski area, located below Artist Point near the east end of the Mount Baker Highway. More than 50 inches of snow fell in the area from Friday through Monday, according to the ski area’s online snow report.

Additional snow fell Tuesday as temperatures hovered in the 20s.

Avalanche danger remained high in the North Cascades, according to the Northwest Avalanche Center.

In addition, the ski area posted warnings about the danger posed by tree wells and deep snow immersion.

“It’s very treacherous,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Jilk, who coordinates wilderness search and rescue incidents, in a text message from the scene. “Working the steep cliff bands near Chair One. Slow and methodical.”

Chair One is a lift designated for experts that traverses the center of the search area. It’s marked by steep cliffs and wooded sections.

“He was not out of bounds, but that rope warns that you are entering an extreme danger zone, a more technical area,” Howat said. A second roped-off section warns of steep cliffs ahead, he added.

Datskiy’s family has asked for privacy as the search continues, but many of his friends and loved ones are posting social media messages asking for prayers.

“He was a really great brother,” said his sister, Tanya Datskiy, who was at the ski area Tuesday. “He did a lot for the family.”

Meanwhile, the Mount Baker wilderness is under a winter storm warning through Tuesday night, issued by the National Weather Service. A foot or more of new snow was expected through Tuesday night, with temperatures in the low to mid-30s.

Rain is expected Wednesday morning, changing to snow Wednesday night. Snow is forecast Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“We’re in a big snow cycle right now,” Howatt said. “People need to be more aware and stay closer to their partners right now.”

Sheriff Bill Elfo said how long the search continues will depend on weather and terrain.

“We’ll continue to search and try to find him to the extent that we can safely do that,” Elfo said.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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