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Originally published December 6, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 6, 2007 at 8:47 PM

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Search for 3 missing snowboarders will resume Friday

Searchers looking for three Seattle-area snowboarders who disappeared during a weekend trip have suspended their search for the day and...

Seattle Times staff reporter

CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN, Pierce County — Searchers looking for three Seattle-area snowboarders who disappeared during a weekend trip have suspended their search for the day and will resume tomorrow. Authorities spent today looking for a make-shift camp that the men may have planned to visit. They found the camp, but there was no sign that the men ever made it there, said Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer.

Troyer said searchers are combing the backcountry area near Crystal Mountain in hopes of detecting a beacon signal believed to be emitting from Kevin Carter, 26, Devlin Williams, 29, and Phillip Hollins, 41. Searchers are concentrating along routes that the men could have taken to reach the camp, Troyer said.

Even though the men started their trip Friday, with plans to return home Sunday, Troyer said searchers are still operating in "rescue mode."

The backcountry ski area where the search is being conducted is a nearly five-hour hike from Crystal Mountain ski resort, he said.

A helicopter team is searching the area this morning, but they may be grounded because of weather. Troyer said the weather is expected to worsen over the next 48 hours, but crews plan to continue searching until at least Sunday.

Searchers spent Wednesday scaling steep backcountry terrain that is littered with the remnants of numerous avalanches that have hit throughout the Cascades. They fear the trio, all described as experienced snowboarders, may have been hit by an avalanche sometime last weekend.

"At this point they're not anywhere out there," Paul Baugher, ski-patrol director at Crystal Mountain, said Wednesday. "There's a lot of area to cover. This is a difficult mission."

The Pierce County Sheriff's Office began its search for the men early Monday, but due to avalanches, white-out conditions and floods, the search has been limited, said Troyer.

David Wolfendale, a friend of Hollins' and Williams', said the men were familiar with the difficult terrain. He said the area is about a four-hour uphill hike from the ski resort's parking lot. The area is extremely popular among backcountry skiers and snowboarders, he said.

"It's steep, deep and beautiful," said Wolfendale, who works at the Snorting Elk Cellar at the ski resort.

Hollins and Carter work for Seattle's Fleetfoot Messenger Service, said their boss, Gary Brose. Williams is a former Fleetfoot employee, Brose said.

"It's not like them to be off their schedules," Brose said. "It's a lot of worry for us."

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Carter has worked as a bicycle messenger the past three years and Hollins has made car deliveries for the company for eight years, Brose said.

Baugher said the high winds, heavy snow and rising temperatures that swept through the mountains last weekend were a recipe for avalanches. Nearly every slope in the backcountry area that the three men are believed to have headed to was hit by an avalanche, Baugher said.

Baugher himself was trapped in an avalanche Sunday as he detonated avalanche-control explosives. Fortunately, he was buried in shallow snow, but a fellow ski-patrol partner was completely covered. Baugher said he had to dig his partner to safety.

"The conditions had gone to extreme," he said.

The bodies of Stacia Marie Thompson, 33, and Craig Stanton, 38, were recovered Tuesday after they were struck by an avalanche sometime last weekend near Snow Lake north of Snoqualmie Pass. Thompson's husband, Mark, 38, suffered a broken leg in the avalanche.

Both hikers died of asphyxiation Sunday, according to the King County Medical Examiner's Office. Both deaths were classified as accidental.

Mark Thompson was in satisfactory condition, according to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

The three hikers left for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area Friday and planned to return home Sunday, the King County Sheriff's Office reported.

When the group failed to return, the father of one of the hikers drove to the area Monday and found their vehicle. Heavy rains Monday prevented a helicopter search, and the hikers were found Tuesday.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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