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Missing snowmobilers rescued in Colorado; took shelter in cabin with blankets, food

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

(Photo)
A worker used a front-end loader to clear snow Monday from an avalanche off Interstate 70 near Silverthorne, Colo. The slide, which was between 6 and 10 feet deep, covered all six lanes of the highway.
(Colorado Department of Transportation)
CONEJOS, Colo. -- Six snowmobilers missing in the mountains for 2 1/2 days while a howling blizzard swirled around them were rescued Monday -- hungry and cold but unhurt -- after taking shelter in a cozy cabin and calling 911 on a cell phone when the storm eased up.

The group, consisting of two couples and two teenagers, broke into the cabin, where they huddled around a gas grill and dined on popcorn and chicken bouillon they found inside.

"We counted 18 blankets. We were cozy," 31-year-old Shannon Groen said after rescue crews on snowmobiles brought the group to safety. "God was looking out for us. When we knew we were safe we began to worry about the rescuers and we prayed for them."

Groen and the others were trapped by one in a series of storms that killed at least three people across the West, unloaded as much as 11 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada range, flooded hundreds of homes in Nevada and knocked out power to a quarter-million Californians. At least three people -- two skiers and a hiker -- were missing in the snow-covered mountains of California and Colorado.

Groen and her husband, Jason, had gone snowmobiling with their daughter Aspen to celebrate her 14th birthday. Also along were one of Jason Groen's employees, Mike Martin; Martin's wife, Missy; and their son, Jessie, 13. All are from Farmington, N.M.

The group had set out on what was supposed to be a daylong adventure but got lost and ran out of gas Friday night near 10,222-foot Cumbres Pass, just north of the New Mexico line.

They sought shelter in a cabin near the isolated and snowbound Osier Station, a small wooden building that serves as a summertime stop on a railroad line for sightseers.

Jason Groen, the 36-year-old owner of a car wash, said his cell phone didn't work in the cabin, and bad weather kept him from leaving to find a place where he could get a signal until Monday morning. Meanwhile, rescuers were hampered by the threat of avalanches, high winds and snow that at somepoints was coming down at 8 inches an hour.

When the storm finally broke, Groen hiked up to a point with cell phone reception and alerted rescuers to their location.

Aspen said she had a fine birthday: "It was fun, but wasn't something I would want to do again."

"I never had a prayer that they would all get off the mountain alive," said Groen's mother, Beverly Downey. "By the grace of God and our friends the media, I hope and pray that no one else ever has to go through this again."

Elsewhere in Colorado, two stretches of Interstate 70 -- the main route to many of the state's major ski resorts -- were closed by avalanches.

The storm death toll included a woman who died when she and her boyfriend drove onto a flooded road in Chino, Calif., and a public worker killed by a falling branch north of Sacramento, Calif. One woman was killed in Oregon by a falling tree.


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