Caitlin Comstock and her husband Cole were in their element Friday morning, enjoying a wonderful powder day at Alpine Meadows ski resort.
Before they could even take a break from hopping through the deep powder runs at the Lake Tahoe ski resort, an avalanche took Cole’s life and left stunned and heartbroken Caitlin longing for her husband of only three-plus years.
“I want him here next to me forever, but I know that he was doing the thing that he loved,” Caitlin told ABC-10 TV in Sacramento. “And I know that he didn’t suffer from what they told me.”
Comstock, 34, grew up in Quincy and lived with his wife Blairsden, a small Sierra town of fewer than 100 people near Graeagle. He was one of two men caught in a 10:16 a.m. avalanche Friday (Jan. 17) after coming down the Subway Cirque run, located off the Scott chairlift.
According to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, the avalanche swept up the two men on the ski run. One day after the tragedy, it’s still not clear if the men caught in the avalanche were skiing together. The Sheriff’s Office released Comstock’s name within a few hours of finding his body Friday. The other skier has yet to be named. He had surgery Friday at Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee and has serious lower-body injuries.
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows officials say the cause of the avalanche is under investigation. Alpine Meadows had received 25 inches of snow by Friday morning, setting up a monumental powder day, but also one that can cause avalanche concerns.
Prior to Friday’s opening, Alpine Meadows crews did maintenance at various areas on the mountain that included controlled explosions to decrease chances of an avalanche. The Sierra Avalanche Center rated the risk for an avalanche as a three out of five or “considerable” on its danger scale.
Cole and Caitlin Comstock were introduced through mutual friends over the Fourth of July weekend in 2015. They clicked almost immediately, getting married in 2016. The couple didn’t have children.
“Cole was the most kind-hearted and caring person to his friends and even strangers,” Caitlin said. “He always went out of his way to make everyone feel loved and cared for. He was always the first person to introduce himself to new people because he just wanted to be everyone’s friend. He loved skiing and loved living life.”
Despite her grief, Caitlin wrote about her deceased husband Friday on her Facebook page. She added another touching post Saturday.
“Cole, you are my best friend, and I know I am yours,” she wrote. “This pain is unbearable. I can’t believe you were taken from us so soon. I pray in the deepest parts of my soul you had great turns yesterday, loved every second, and did not suffer as you took your last big ride. My life began when I met you, and I truly don’t know how I will keep going without you. I don’t want to. You were the best thing that’s ever happened in my life. You truly are my dream come true. I’ll love you for the rest of my life baby.”
The sheriff’s office and search and rescue crews responded quickly Friday to the Alpine Meadows incident after reports of an avalanche. Helped by people who were on the lift and witnessed the avalanche, authorities were able to find Comstock fairly quickly. The other skier was more fortunate, search crews were able to find him and provide immediate help.
Witnesses to the incident saw no other individuals involved, and no additional individuals were reported missing. The resort said the search was “complete” at 11:45 a.m. on Friday afternoon.
Logan Miller, who was snowboarding Friday at Alpine Meadows, says he is fearful of avalanches, which are very unpredictable in nature.
“One of my greatest fears is being caught in an avalanche and the likelihood of not being able to get out alive or being uninjured,” Miller told KCRA-3 TV, Sacramento. “(Surviving) is pretty low. It’s just a real drag to hear about this.”
The Subway Cirque run is steep, rugged terrain and is definitely an advanced run that only expert skiers and riders should attempt. The run was open and not an out-of-bounds area. Family members said Cole Comstock had been an avid skier for 11 years and was considered an expert skier.
Friday was the first avalanche death in California since a mother and son were killed at their Kirkwood rental home on March 4, 2018 due to an avalanche.
Thus far in the 2019-2020 ski season, 10 people have died in avalanches in the U.S. However, the Alpine Meadows incident is just the second to occur inside the bounds of a resort, where conditions are better maintained than out-of-bounds areas. There have been five deaths in California avalanches since 2013.
1982 ALPINE MEADOWS AVALANCHE: There was a deadly avalanche at the ski resort on March 31, 1982. Seven people were killed.
For more details on the 1982 avalanche, click here.
It was snowing hard for four straight days and the resort was closed, but there were still some people who had to report to work. The avalanche hit the Summit Chairlift Terminal building, the main ski lodge, several small buildings, and two chairlifts, and it buried the parking lot under 10 to 20 feet of snow.
Of the seven people in the Summit Building at the time of the avalanche, three were killed. Four people were buried in the parking lot and also died. Altogether, 12 people and one dog were victims of the avalanche. The dog survived a one-day burial. Total monetary loss was approximately 1.6 million dollars.
Among the survivors was Anna Conrad. She miraculously survived the avalanche despite being trapped for five days. Conrad was discovered in an air pocket beneath several feet of snow and debris in an A-frame building, the Alpine Meadows lodge.
“I had absolutely no idea what had happened, it was so instantaneous,” Conrad recalls. “I did a lot of sleeping and thinking about friends. I just kept telling myself I could do it, I could do it. They’d find me.”
Following her rescue, Conrad spent two months in a hospital. A portion of her right leg and the toes on her left foot were irreparably damaged by frostbite. The heroic Conrad not only began skiing again, she is still teaching safety at Mammoth Mountain ski resort.