TAOS SKI VALLEY, NM (KOAT) – A 26-year-old man has died after being trapped in a rare avalanche at Taos Ski Valley. Family has identified the man as Matthew Zonghetti of Massachusetts.

A view of Kachina Peak and Wheeler Peak at Taos (credit: iStock/Getty Images Plus)

KOAT-TV spoke to Zonghetti’s sister who said her brother was an expert skier who had been skiing since he was 4.

Zonghetti took an annual ski trip and was in Taos with his father this year. His father was at the base of the mountain when the avalanche hit.

Matt Zonghetti (credit: Zonghetti Family)

The second skier trapped is still listed in critical condition at the University of New Mexico Hospital. His name has not been released.

What happened?

Chris Stagg, vice president of public affairs for Taos Ski Valley, said that around 11:30 a.m. Thursday, an inbound avalanche occurred on the K3 shoot off Kachina Peak, burying the skiers.

Rescue crews were able to get the two men out and began to administer CPR before they were transported down the mountain to the resort’s Mogul Medical Clinic.

After an exhaustive search, Taos Ski Valley confirmed there weren’t any additional victims.

One of the skiers was airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital.

Witnesses on the scene tell KOAT that it was a “very scary situation.”

On Wednesday, Taos Ski Valley tweeted out that the Kachina Peak lift would be closed due to low visibility.

But on Thursday the area was back open.

Stagg said the mountains ski patrol team had detonated explosives in the area where the avalanche occurred early Thursday morning. He said they do this every morning to prevent avalanches and said it is rare for one to occur.

It is not yet known what triggered Thursday’s avalanche.

Former Gov. Gary Johnson was one of the witnesses on the mountain. He helped with the rescue and said he the entire incident brought him to tears.

He said the men were both given CPR and were trapped in snow that was more like concrete. KOAT also spoke to two women who had just gotten to the ski area when they saw the rescue crews rushing to the mountain.

They said they could see the path the avalanche took down the mountain and it was very narrow until the very end, where it spread out, they said that’s where the rescue was focused. They watched as ambulances and medical helicopters got to the ski area waiting for people to be pulled out of the snow.

“When we got in view they had a line of people probing and dogs out. I think when we were watching they were pulling someone out but I’m not sure if that was the case,” one of the woman said.

The two watched and said the crews searching for survivors had a very systematic way of finding survivors.

Johnson said people stood shoulder to shoulder with 10-foot poles, digging in the snow looking for anyone trapped.

Avalanches in Taos Ski Valley are very rare

Experts say avalanches on the Kachina Peak and the rest of the Taos Ski Valley because the mountain is closely monitored for skiers and snowboarders using it.

George Brooks with Ski New Mexico says the area is checked by ski patrol on a daily basis.

Before the resort opens, ski patrol goes around and looks for potential areas where snow has built up.

If they find any they do things like fracture the snow by stepping on it. Sometimes, if they do spot a potential avalanche, they’ll use a cannon to throw explosives so it triggers a controlled avalanche with no one around.

But, it is not clear why or how Thursday’s avalanche formed.

George Brooks said, “You have more avalanches outback, so you have the perimeter where people normally ski and then someone skis out of bounds and go behind that off the trail. That’s usually where you have avalanches because that’s not a controlled area.”

Although avalanches are rare there have been some in the past. But Brooks says it is highly unlikely that a second avalanche will form on Kachina Peak.

History of deadly avalanches in Taos

In 1996, 38-year-old Tim Harter was back country skiing alone in Taos when he was buried by avalanche. They found his body buried under 3 feet of snow.

In 1976, an avalanche buried and killed 17-year-old Andy Frank. He was skiing at Taos Ski Valley away from the main trails. Two other people were with him at that time, but were not injured.

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