BAKER CITY, Ore -- Rescue efforts continue for two skiers who were hurt in an avalanche that killed two other people in the mountains of eastern Oregon Tuesday.
The skiers were part of a large guided back country tour in the south Wallowa Mountains when they were caught in an avalanche around noon, according to Baker County Sheriff Mitch Southwick.
Rescuers had hoped to airlift the two injured skiers off the mountain early Wednesday, but bad weather forced the National Guard helicopters to turn back. One of the surviving victims was a woman with two broken legs and a shoulder injury. The other was a man with a broken thigh bone.
Efforts now are focused on getting people out by ground. Baker County Undersheriff Warren Thompson said a search and rescue team reached the skiers on foot and was working on using ropes to get them off a steep slope, where they are bundled in rescue baskets.
The area where the avalanche occurred is called Little Eagle Meadows, about 10 miles northwest of the town of Halfway. Eight people were skiing together when the avalanche hit and the three uninjured skiers were already taken out by snowcat. The group was mostly from the Seattle area. Their names have not been released.
Southwick knew of no avalanche warning for the area where the fatal accident happened. He said the temperature was around freezing, and that's much warmer than it had been.
Connelly Brown, the owner of Wallowa Alpine Huts, said the skiing trip was organized by his Joseph-based company. He said a guide contacted him by cellphone after the avalanche hit.
The skiers were on a guided five-day, four-night trip. The avalanche came down on the third day of the trip, Brown said. Later that night, as on previous nights, the group planned to sleep at the Schneider Cabin, a historic miners' log cabin on the south side of Cornucopia Peak.
Brown said the clients and the guides were all "fit, proficient downhill skiers." The guides were certified by the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education and trained by the American Mountain Guide Association, he said.
"From the description, it sounded like they were traveling and the avalanche came from above and caught them by surprise," Brown said.
The avalanche occurred in the southern part of the Wallowa Mountains, near the Idaho border. The Wallowas are known as the "Alps of Oregon." With their rocky peaks and deep ravines, the mountains are popular with back-country skiers, hikers and horseback riders.