Searchers planned to return to the backcountry of this sprawling ski area this morning to resume their search for three Seattle-area snowboarders...

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CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN, Pierce County — Searchers planned to return to the backcountry of this sprawling ski area this morning to resume their search for three Seattle-area snowboarders who have been missing since Sunday.

Hampered by bad weather that kept aircraft grounded for hours, searchers spent Wednesday scaling steep backcountry terrain that is littered with the remnants of numerous avalanches that have hit throughout the Cascades. They fear the trio, all described as experienced snowboarders, may have been hit by an avalanche sometime last weekend.

“At this point they’re not anywhere out there,” said Paul Baugher, ski-patrol director at Crystal Mountain. “There’s a lot of area to cover. This is a difficult mission.”

The missing men were identified Wednesday as Kevin Carter, 26; Devlin Williams, 29; and Phillip Hollins, 41.

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The men headed for the backcountry Friday with plans to return home Sunday. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office began its search for the men early Monday, but due to avalanches, white-out conditions and floods, the search has been limited, said sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer.

A plane was dispatched to search the area Tuesday but found no sign of the snowboarders.

The men reportedly carried a rescue beacon with them, but searchers from King, Pierce and Snohomish counties have detected no signal, Baugher said.

David Wolfendale, a friend of Hollins’ and Williams’, said the men were familiar with the difficult terrain. He said the area is about a four-hour uphill hike from the ski resort’s parking lot. The area is extremely popular among backcountry skiers and snowboarders, he said.

“It’s steep, deep and beautiful,” said Wolfendale, who works at the Snorting Elk Cellar at the ski resort.

Hollins and Carter work for Seattle’s Fleetfoot Messenger Service, said their boss, Gary Brose. Williams is a former Fleetfoot employee, Brose said.

“It’s not like them to be off their schedules,” Brose said. “It’s a lot of worry for us.”

Carter has worked as a bicycle messenger the past three years and Hollins has made car deliveries for the company for eight years, Brose said.

Baugher said the high winds, heavy snow and rising temperatures that swept through the mountains last weekend were a recipe for avalanches. Nearly every slope in the backcountry area that the three men are believed to have headed to was hit by an avalanche, Baugher said.

Baugher himself was trapped in an avalanche Sunday as he detonated avalanche-control explosives. Fortunately, he was buried in shallow snow, but a fellow ski-patrol partner was completely covered. Baugher said he had to dig his partner to safety.

“The conditions had gone to extreme,” he said.

The bodies of Stacia Marie Thompson, 33, and Craig Stanton, 38, were recovered Tuesday after they were struck by an avalanche sometime last weekend near Snow Lake north of Snoqualmie Pass. Thompson’s husband, Mark, 38, suffered a broken leg in the avalanche.

Both hikers died of asphyxiation Sunday, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. Both deaths were classified as accidental.

Mark Thompson was in satisfactory condition, according to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

The three hikers left for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area Friday and planned to return home Sunday, the King County Sheriff’s Office reported.

When the group failed to return, the father of one of the hikers drove to the area Monday and found their vehicle. Heavy rains Monday prevented a helicopter search, and the hikers were found Tuesday.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464- or

Seattle Times Eastside bureau reporter Peyton Whitely and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

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