CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Nicholas Joy, missing on Sugarloaf Mountain for nearly two days, was found early Tuesday morning by an out-of-state snowmobiler.
The 17-year-old boy, an experienced skier who skied out of bounds off the Binder trail just after noon on Sunday, built a snow cave late that day when he realized he was lost.
According to Maine Warden Service Lt. Kevin Adam, Joy hunkered down in the cave to stay warm, and drank fresh water from the nearby Carrabassett Stream to remain hydrated.
Joy, 17, of Medford, Mass., was found alive and well at 9 a.m. Tuesday, nearly 48 hours after he was reported missing. According to the Warden Service, he was a little hypothermic and very tired, having survived two nights in 20-degree temperatures.
Joy was wearing ski pants and a ski jacket, but was not wearing a helmet and did not have his cellphone with him.
According to Adam, Joy was found near the Caribou Pond Road, used only by snowmobilers during the winter, just off the western side of Sugarloaf Mountain. He was hiking along that trail when Joseph Paul of Warwick, Mass., happened to be snowmobiling by.
Paul, who is a captain with the Warwick Fire Department and was not part of the search party but was aware of the search from media reports, called wardens to report finding Joy.
John Diller, general manager at Sugarloaf, said that as soon as he heard Joy had been found, he went to Caribou Pond Road with the teen’s parents, Robert and Donna Joy. “I cried with them,” he said. “This kind of thing, it was almost like a miracle.”
According to wardens, Joy — on what was supposed to be his last run of the day Sunday before returning to Massachusetts — skied out of bounds and for quite a while before realizing he was too far out. He built a snow cave that afternoon, and hunkered down for the night. Several times during the day Monday the teen left the cave to make attempts to hike out in different directions, before returning to the cave at night.
He heard snowmobilers Monday, which were rescuers looking for him, but he didn’t hear their whistles or calls and wasn’t able to reach them.
Tuesday morning, according to wardens, Joy “realized he had to do something” and started hiking out. He walked in the direction of the snowmobile engines he heard Monday and found snowshoe tracks left by searchers. He followed those tracks about 1.5 miles and eventually connected with Caribou Pond Road, about 4 miles from Route 27.
Joy was transported to Franklin Memorial Hospital for evaluation, according to the Warden Service.
He did all the right things to stay alive, according to Adam, but wardens haven’t had a chance to talk to him about how he knew to build the snow cave, where he went off the trail or what his hiking route was.
The teen told a Sugarloaf employee that he liked watching survivor shows, and rescuers believe that may have helped him know what to do in the wild.
Joy's parents issued a statement, through FMH spokeswoman Jill Gray, thanking "everyone for their hopes and prayers and especially members of the rescue team."
Robert and Donna Joy offered special thanks to Warden Chaplain Gerry Baril, and Paul, the snowmobiler who found their son.
They said Nicholas is doing well, but that the family "would like the public to respect their privacy during this time of healing."
Sugarloaf staff and ski patrol members were ecstatic when they learned that Joy was found alive, said Richard Wilkinson, vice president of mountain operations. Many, including Wilkinson and Diller, spent the last two days and nights helping with the search.
One searcher told Wilkinson that he "'didn't mind searching for a needle in a haystack, if he knew which haystack to search.'"
Diller said that every two hours Sunday night he drove to an area at the nearby golf course, where many skiers who get off the trail end up, to see if Joy would show up.
Most skiers, he said, who leave the trail are found by ski patrol within a few hours. This time, Diller said, "there were no signs or clues where Joy had gone."
The Warden Service, the Sugarloaf ski patrol and others had been searching for Joy on skis, snowshoes and snowmobiles since Sunday afternoon, when he was reported missing. Authorities say Joy and his father split up and took separate trails from the top Sunday, and the father called for help when his son didn't meet him.
After 10 wardens and 25 volunteers spent the daylight Monday searching, wardens organized a more extensive search starting Tuesday morning. Among more than 100 searchers gathered Tuesday were wardens, Navy Seals, Marines, ski patrol volunteers, students from Carrabassett Valley and members of the Maine Association for Search and Rescue, Mahoosuc Rescue, U.S. Border Patrol agents, Maine Forest Service Rangers, plus search and rescue volunteers from Lincoln, Franklin County, Mercer and Mount Desert Island, among others.
According to Adam, the volunteers were given a GPS and assigned a specific grid to search by foot, a labor-intensive process conducted in very poor weather conditions and zero visibility because of a low-hanging fog line at the mountain. In many areas, searchers were moving through waist-high snow.
Searchers were in position on the mountain when Paul called to report finding Joy.
According to Lt. Adam, if the weather had been more calm and searchers had been able to get planes up they would have found Joy sooner, and would probably have seen his snow cave from the air.
Diller said no skier has ever been lost for so long on Sugarloaf before, and this was the first time anyone has been lost for two nights. Some have gone out of bounds on the back side of the mountain but were rescued by morning, he said.
"The lesson here," Diller said, "was for the mountain to re-evaluate their communication to skiers."
And, he encouraged anyone skiing the glades to not ski alone, but to ski with a buddy and carry a phone.
According to Adam, there was "pretty significant" cost to the search for Joy in time, manpower and equipment, estimating the expenditure to be $10,000 or less. Had Joy not been found Tuesday, rescuers had been prepared to spend several days at the site to look for him.
According to a press release issued by Warden Service Cpl. John MacDonald, this is the second search conducted by the Warden Service this winter for a skier who has gone out of bounds on Sugarloaf Mountain.
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