(Ed’s note: This story has been updated, below.)
By Mike Rogge and Tim Mutrie
Overdue since late Tuesday from a ski mountaineering outing to Split Mountain, south of Bishop, Calif., the bodies of Kip Garre and Allison Kreutzen were discovered today during a search-and-rescue operation, Powder.com has confirmed.
Garre, 38, an accomplished skier, guide and mountaineer, and his girlfriend, Allison Kreutzen, intended to climb the Split Couloir on Tuesday, April 26. They did not return. Both Garre and Kreutzen lived in the Tahoe area.
When reached via telephone by Powder.com this afternoon, Inyo County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Carma Roper said, “There was a search and rescue effort launched at 8 a.m. this morning. They were two very experienced hikers/skiers and they were overdue, near the Split Mountain area.”
Roper later confirmed that two bodies had been discovered; Powder.com independently confirmed Garre and Kreutzen as the two skiers involved. “The wind situation right now is horrendous and the helicopters aren’t able to get into certain areas that they should be able to,” Roper added.
Seven of Garre’s and Kreutzen’s friends assisted in the search-and-rescue operation, according to Roper. Powder.com reached one of those skiers this evening, California time, just as they were making their way out of the mountains. That person declined to discuss details of the situation until first connecting with friends and family.
Garre grew up in Hancock, New Hampshire. Captivated by the freeskiing movement of the early 90s, Garre moved to Squaw Valley and was an early supporter in the park scene before shifting his focus to ski mountaineering and backcountry adventures. He made descents down some of the world’s most elusive mountains, including in Kashmir, Pakistan, China, the Tetons, the Alps, Alaska, Antarctica and his beloved Sierras.
“Kip was pretty much the most stoked skier on the planet,” said fellow Squaw skier Cody Townsend when reached by phone. “Just everyday he was fired up.” Upon learning of his friend’s death, Townsend added, “It’s a pure tragedy. He was the most underground hero of Squaw. Everyone here knew him and thought he was the nicest person in the world.”
Garre was also a longtime and revered contributor to Powder Magazine, and the entire Powder family sends its sincere condolences to the friends and family of Garre and Kreutzen.
Update: Thursday, April 28: 7:18 p.m., PST
Powder.com just reached Robb Gaffney, one of Garre and Kreutzen’s friends from Squaw who was involved in today’s SAR operation. Gaffney provided details on the incident:
“Three days ago Kip and Allison went down to ski the Split Couloir on Split Mountain. They slept and then went out early the next morning [Tuesday]. Usually at the end of a big day, they'll call and share the details and let people know it went OK,” Gaffney said. “But nobody had heard from them, so yesterday Dan Molnar drove up to trailhead and found their car with Allison's dog still in it. That was pretty alarming, because it's a day trip and they didn't bring gear with them for over-nighting.”
"Yesterday was an organizational day to get the rescue mission going, so about five of us from Tahoe” — John Morrison, Emily Turner, Jesse Bushey and Glen Poulsen and Gaffney — “got together and drove down to assist search and rescue today. We skinned up and approaching the couloir you couldn't see a whole lot, just a bit of debris. But the scale is pretty large, so what at first looked like a bit of sluff was actually a big slide.”
“Then we saw a ski, then, partially, a body. It wasn't a deep debris pile, five to six feet deep, but it came from the east-facing couloir, from about two-thirds of the way up the couloir. It appeared that they were probably climbing the couloir when the avalanche hit from above, and it looked like a pretty powerful avalanche.”
"Each of them was partially buried—Kip a little bit more so, while Allison had been ejected to the side. We were able to dig them out and all the property, probably over more than a thousand vertical feet down the path, and marked all that. Then we waited for search and rescue to come. … We got them down as far as we could, but the helicopter couldn't fly in today, so maybe it'll be tomorrow or the next day that they’re able to get their bodies out, when the winds are supposed to calm down.”
The friends rescue crew also coordinated with pilot Jim Morrison, the brother of John Morrison, who was on the ground team; Jim Morrison, with Jim Zeller riding along as a spotter, flew a plane out of Truckee this morning in order to scan the search area from the air, Gaffney said. Through cell phones and radios, the ground crew was able to communicate with Morrison and Zeller as well as a helicopter from the California Highway Patrol. Volunteers from the Inyo County Search and Rescue Team and Inyo County Sheriff’s Office also participated in the SAR mission.
"By the time we had all the organization and coordination with the different agencies, we were underway from the trailhead at 7:30 or 8,” Gaffney said. “And we were feeling a little anxious. We wanted to be out much earlier than that. It probably took us two-and-a-half hours to get to the bottom of the couloir, and we were going pretty fast. But those guys meant so much to us, so sitting at home knowing there was a rescue going on would've been way more challenging than being there today.”
Gaffney said it was difficult to find the scene as they did. “Kip's been a part of our life for a long time in Squaw and he's just this special guy who everyone loves. And a little more than a year ago, he started dating Allison. She'd just moved out from Telluride and she was just a gem. Everyone loved her, and loved them as a couple. So it was just horrible to come up on this debris pile and see this ski there,” he said.
“They were just people who enriched our lives. It sounds cliché, but it's true, especially within the tight-knit Tahoe backcountry community. Definitely a big loss, and the emotions came in waves throughout the day. We had a lot to take care of, so you sort of had to keep your chin up and do what you needed to do. But every once and a while a wave would just come and hit you.” — Tim Mutrie