A day of skiing ended in heartache when a 44-year-old Central Point woman traveled below the Mt. Ashland Ski Area boundary Saturday afternoon.
After more than 12 hours of searching, Jackson County Search and Rescue members found Ellen Miller dead in the East Fork drainage of Ashland Creek about a mile and a half below the ski area boundary, search and rescue program manager Lt. Pat Rowland said.
Miller's husband reported her missing at 3:50 p.m. Saturday. After numerous searches of the area by the Mt. Ashland Ski Patrol, ski area managers contacted search and rescue at about 5 p.m. More than 30 people searched until midnight, and search parties used snow cats, snow shoes and snowmobiles to scour the area where she may have gone missing. At 6 a.m. Sunday, search and rescue resumed the search and found Miller's body at about 10 a.m.
Rowland said between three and six people generally go missing from the ski area each year, and they generally leave the boundary in search of fresh snow. The lack of new snow made it harder to follow the woman's tracks, Rowland said.
In four and a half years managing search and rescue, Rowland said this was the first death he knew of a skier lost near Mount Ashland. He said search parties have found many people in the same drainage (between the ski area boundary and Ashland Loop Road) with hypothermia, but they have all survived. Miller's cause of death was still not verified as of this morning.
Rowland said of all the lost skiers and snowboarders on the mountain, the East Fork is usually the drainage they end up in.
"Over the years, we have calculated this is the drainage system they go down when they leave the ski area," he said.
According to Mt. Ashland Ski Area Marketing Director Rick Saul, Miller skied with her family on Saturday and last saw her husband for lunch in the ski area's main lodge at noon. When she did not meet her husband at their car at the end of the day, he reported her missing, Saul said.
He said her husband described Miller as an intermediate skier who tended to stay on groomed runs.
Saul said the ski patrol did seven internal searches of the area between 4 p.m. and midnight Saturday and one ski area manager rode a snowmobile south of the ski area looking for the woman.
The search occurred on the same night the ski area held its annual Bavarian Night ski patrol fundraiser. Saul said the Mt. Ashland Ski Patrol followed its standard protocol and did all it could to help find the woman.
"I think our ski patrol does a great job, and I think they did everything right," Saul said.
Jackson County Search and Rescue will conduct a review of the search, and the woman's cause of death will be released later.
"It's a tragedy to lose a community member this way," Saul said.
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