Skier killed in rare avalanche on Mummy Mountain near Las Vegas

A man skiing in the backcountry in the Mount Charleston area near Las Vegas died Monday in an avalanche, local law enforcement authorities announced Tuesday.

The skier, identified as Las Vegas resident Punan Zhou, was swept about 500 feet down Mummy Mountain before friends found him using a location-tracking device, said Sgt. Matt Marlow of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s search and rescue team.

Authorities on Monday initially described the man as an injured hiker.

Mummy Mountain, the second-tallest peak in the area, separates Mount Charleston’s two main canyons, Kyle and Lee, where southern Nevada’s only ski resort is located.

Marlow said Zhou was among a group of five who set out Monday morning to ski in an unmaintained area of Mummy Mountain. The group reached about 11,000 feet before Zhou “decided to hit one of the slopes, and that’s the slope that gave way,” said Marlow.

The other skiers called for help around 12:20 p.m., and performed chest compressions on Zhou for a half-hour without success. Zhou was 32.

Then, Marlow said, alongside a team of search and rescue workers and U.S. Forest Service firefighters, the skiers helped carry their friend’s body down the mountain in a recovery operation that spanned 3 hours and unfolded as a winter storm approached Mount Charleston.

Zhou’s cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma, according to the Clark County coroner’s office, CBS affiliate KLAS-TV reported.

More than 8 inches of snow has fallen over Lee Canyon since the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for the Mount Charleston area at 4 p.m. Monday, according to meteorologist John Salmen.

The weather advisory is in effect through 10 p.m. Tuesday, with more snowfall expected throughout the day, Salmen said.

“It definitely makes me a little nervous,” hiker Katie Schwartz told KLAS-TV after the incident. “We always check the conditions first, we never commit to going out we try to stay warm. I try to wear ice cleats on my shoes so I don’t trip and fall.”

The Lee Canyon ski resort suspended its operations Tuesday morning following Monday’s nearby avalanche and the overnight snow storm, in order “to conduct necessary snow safety and avalanche mitigation work,” according to a news release.

Jonathan Stein, a program manager for Mount Charleston, told KLAS-TV that avalanches are rare in Southern Nevada, but do happen.

“We have had colder storms pass through the last few weeks that have dropped snowfall. Within that we have had lighter, less moisture content snow we did have a period of time where it was very cold with now snowfall that can contribute to weak layers,” Stein said.

The fatal incident came just two days after two snowmobilers died after being caught and buried by an avalanche in Colorado.

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