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Police: Skier killed in avalanche on mountain near Las Vegas

Mt. Charleston
Mt. Charleston
Mt. Charleston

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.

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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 (3,352 meters) 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.

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.

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

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, said the recent weather on the mountain — including a “fair amount of snow” and “high moisture” — had created ideal avalanche conditions.

He warned on Tuesday that “avalanche conditions can persist for periods of time.”

“When the avalanche danger will lessen,” Stein said, “is not an exact science.”