Snowmobilers hunkered down in cabin during blizzard |

Snowmobilers hunkered down in cabin during blizzard

Robert Weller
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

CONEJOS, Coloardo – The snowmobilers looked more like winners of the Iditarod than six people feared dead in a blizzard. They beamed amid cheers as they came down a snowy mountain where they had been stuck for three days.

They had done the smart thing when they got lost Friday in Colorado’s San Luis Valley: They broke into a cabin and stayed put.

“We just stayed in the cabin. It was safe. We were aware there would be people looking out for us. We didn’t want to split up and take unnecessary risks,” said Jason Groen, one of those rescued Monday near the New Mexico border.

The six were trapped by one in a series of storms that killed at least three people across the West, unloaded as much as 11 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada range, flooded hundreds of homes in Nevada and knocked out power to a quarter-million Californians. At least three people ” two skiers and a hiker ” were missing in the snow-covered mountains of California and Colorado.

Groen, his family and an employee’s family got lost in a snowstorm on what was to be a daylong tour. The 36-year-old veteran snowmobiler shepherded everyone into a cabin near the isolated and snowbound Osier Station, a small wooden building that serves as a summertime stop on a railroad line for sightseers.

“He did the right thing. We were confident we would find them. It was just impossible to get to them Saturday or Sunday because it was snowing so hard,” said Conejos County Sheriff Robert Gurule.

The snowmobilers did not have a GPS. Even if they had it probably wouldn’t have worked well enough in the heavy snow to lead them out. Besides, they had run out of gas.

Groen’s employee Mike Martin said they broke into the cabin but tried to do as little damage as possible.

“We counted 18 blankets, we were cozy,” said Groen’s wife, Shannon. “God was looking out for us. When we knew we were safe we began to worry about the rescuers, and we prayed for them.”

Rescuers were hampered by the threat of avalanches, high winds and snow that at some points was coming down 8 inches an hour.

As the blizzard raged, the six huddled around a propane grill. They munched on popcorn and had chicken bouillon and a powdered peach drink, plus snacks they brought with their survival kit.

Jason Groen, a Farmington, N.M., car wash owner, made a fleeting attempt Saturday to find a spot high enough to pick up a cell phone signal. On Monday, after a starlit night and a red sky at dawn, he succeeded in calling authorities.

At the search camp, the first couple of riders to arrive Monday were rescuers, who almost pirouetted their machines in pride at the work they had done.

“I can’t tell you how happy we are,” said the sheriff.

The snowmobilers had gone out Friday to celebrate the 14th birthday of the Groens’ daughter, Aspen.

“It was fun,” she said, “but it wasn’t something I would want to do again.”

Also in southern Colorado, searchers took advantage of a break in the weather to resume looking for two skiers missing since Saturday near Colorado’s Wolf Creek Pass. The search about 40 miles northwest of Conejos was slowed by the threat of avalanches.

Elsewhere in the state, two stretches of Interstate 70 ” the main route to many of Colorado’s major ski resorts ” were closed by avalanches.

In Santa Fe, N.M., rescuers were looking for a couple missing since Saturday, when they became lost after snowboarding outside the boundary of a ski area. They called police with their cell phone Sunday and said they had built a snow cave, but authorities haven’t heard from them since.

Searchers also took advantage of a break in the weather to resume looking for two snowboarders from Albuquerque, N.M., missing since Saturday near Colorado’s Wolf Creek Pass.

The storm death toll included a woman who died when she and her boyfriend drove onto a flooded road in Chino, Calif., and a public worker killed by a falling branch north of Sacramento, Calif. One woman was killed in Oregon by a falling tree.

In Sacramento, two bodies were found in the woods near a homeless camp, but the causes of death were not immediately known.

In the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles, rescuers on foot, snowmobiles and in a helicopter searched for a 62-year-old missing hiker.

Tens of thousands of Californians were still in the dark after fierce storms downed nearly 500 miles of power lines over the weekend.

In Fernley, Nev., waters continued to recede following a weekend levee break that flooded nearly 300 homes and spread sheets of ice over yards and streets. Mayor Todd Cutler said water that had been as deep as 8 feet was down to no more than a foot in many homes.

Gov. Jim Gibbons requested a federal disaster declaration, saying initial repair and cleanup estimates were approaching $4 million.

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