Search resumes for snowmobilers | VailDaily.com
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Search resumes for snowmobilers

CONEJOS, Colo. (AP) ” Heavy snow and high winds hampered the search Sunday for six snowmobilers from New Mexico last seen on Friday near a 10,000-foot mountain pass in southern Colorado.

Poor weather and avalanche conditions also limited a search for two skiers missing since Saturday at the nearby Wolf Creek Ski Area.

Fourteen search and rescue workers were looking for the snowmobilers near 10,222-foot Cumbres Pass just north of the New Mexico border, said Donna Oney, a spokeswoman with the Colorado State Patrol. The area is about 200 miles south of Denver and 60 miles northwest of Taos, N.M.

A search from the New Mexico side was suspended due to snowy conditions and bad roads.

As much as 4 feet of snow fell in the area since the families went missing Friday morning, the National Weather Service said. At least 2 more feet of snow, strong winds and lightning were expected before the weather improves Monday night, it said.

The snowmobilers are members of two Farmington, N.M., families. They are Jason Groen, 36, his wife, Shannon, 31, and daughter, Aspen, 14, said Betty Groen, Jason’s stepmother. Groen said they were snowmobiling with Mike Martin, one of Groen’s employees, his wife, Missy, and their son, Jessie, 13.

The six were last seen Friday just north of the pass.

Betty Groen said the families had visited Shannon Groen’s parents in Chama, N.M., before heading off to snowmobile Friday morning. They had been expected back Friday evening, she said.

New Mexico State Police spokesman Peter Olson said the Colorado Highway Patrol found the family’s pickup and trailer at a snowmobile parking lot in the area.

Two helicopters were standing by in Taos, N.M., and about 20 snowmobiles and Snowcats owned by search and rescue volunteers were ready to go in Chama should the weather improve, Olson said.

Olson said state Route 17, which runs through the pass from Chama, is unplowed, and that a gate at the Colorado border was closed. On Sunday, there were whiteout conditions with visibility of three feet in the mountains, he said.

“Our biggest concern is for the safety of the searchers and the road to that point is pretty dangerous because of avalanches and other snow conditions,” he said.

The snowmobilers are believed to be in an area called Brazos Meadows near Apache Canyon, Olson said. The area is dotted with cabins and rescuers hoped the families made it to one, he said.

Larry Groen, Jason’s father, said in a phone interview from Chama that authorities would not allow family members and friends up into the mountains to search for those missing because of the bad roads and weather.

“It was too stormy up there,” Larry Groen said. “Now they’re saying they’re going to arrest anyone who goes up there, so I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Jason Groen has been snowmobiling for 15 years and always carried avalanche beacons and a backpack with a shovel and other safety equipment, Larry Groen said.

Betty Groen said her stepson would have had snacks and water to last for a few days.

The Groens have three other young daughters, who are with their grandmother in Farmington, Larry Groen said.

About 40 miles northwest of Cumbres Pass, rescuers from several agencies were looking for two skiers reported missing on Saturday at Wolf Creek Ski Area. The search was hampered by heavy snow, poor visibility and the threat of backcountry avalanches, said Mineral County Sheriff Fred Hosselkus.

Rescuers were looking for two men in their mid-20s. Their car, with New Mexico license plates, was found in the resort parking lot Saturday night. Their identities weren’t being released, Hosselkus said.

Wolf Creek reported nearly 4 feet of snow from Saturday night through Sunday. An avalanche blocked Highway 160, which traverses the 10,550-foot Wolf Creek Pass, and it could be several days before the road reopens, Hosselkus said.

The search included teams from Mineral, Archuleta and Rio Grande counties, the U.S. Forest Service and the Upper San Juan Search and Rescue team.


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