By Robert Mittendorf / The Bellingham Herald
A search for a Bellingham snowboarder missing since Sunday afternoon at the Mt. Baker Ski Area has been suspended, officials said.
Whatcom County Sheriff’s officials, ski area employes and volunteer teams have scoured the steep and wooded terrain for three days below Chair Six, where Vitaliy Datskiy, 24, was last seen about noon Sunday. Datskiy was in bounds, but had ducked under a rope that marked a danger zone.
He failed to meet two friends after their run, and a search began that afternoon.
Blizzard-like weather, cliffs and extreme avalanche conditions make continued search efforts too dangerous, officials said.
“Searchers feel they have checked the defined search area thoroughly and it is too hazardous to keep people in the same area,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Jilk, who coordinates wilderness search and rescue operations.
“We feel we are in the right area overall but it is going to take some snow melt to occur to re-check the search area,” Jilk said.
Some 32 inches of snow has fallen over the past 48 hours in the North Cascades at the ski area, according to the National Weather Service and the ski area’s online snow report.
Heavy snowfall has added to extreme avalanche danger in the high country, according to the Northwest Avalanche Center.
Mixed snow and rain was reported Tuesday night, but more snow is forecast daily until Sunday, when rain is possible.
Steep portions of the search area required technical rope techniques, Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said.
Searchers also used dogs and drones, said Duncan Howat, president and general manager of the ski area.
“We used a drone last night,” Howat said Wednesday. “We’re doing avalanche control today.”
Datskiy’s family has asked for privacy in the wake of his disappearance, but many of his friends and loved ones are posting social media messages asking for prayers.
The Bellingham Herald records indicate that Datskiy was a standout soccer player for Meridian High, and his Facebook page features photos and video of him skydiving, playing volleyball and snowboarding.
He is the third person lost this season in the Mount Baker wilderness.
Jake Amancio, 22, and Drew Lenz, 20, both of Bellingham, were reported overdue by a roommate on the afternoon of Nov. 12, 2017, when they didn’t return from a planned day of snowboarding in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Teams from several agencies, aided by volunteers and family members, searched for nearly a week without finding any sign of either man as winter storms battered the North Cascades.
Elfo said the safety of search teams, especially those who were volunteering, became an issue Tuesday and factored in the decision to suspend the active search.
“The conditions up there are just too dangerous,” Elfo said. “They’ve probably placed themselves in the same predicament as the missing snowboarder.”
He said, however, that officials wouldn’t quit trying to find Datskiy.
“We’ll resume when conditions permit,” Elfo said. “As time goes on, optimism wanes. But we’ll do everything that we can, whether it’s a rescue or a recovery. We try to do everything we can to give the family closure.”