CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine — A 17-year-old skier who tried to take a backcountry shortcut survived two nights in the wild by building a shelter, drinking from a stream and walking toward the sound of snowmobiles during the day, officials said Tuesday.
A snowmobiler who was not part of an official search party found Nicholas Joy, of Medford, Mass., at about 9 a.m. Tuesday west of Sugarloaf Mountain, the Maine Warden Service said. Joy was taken to Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington.
"I said, `A lot of people are looking for you,'" snowmobiler Joseph Paul recalled telling the 17-year-old when they met up. "He said, `I bet. I've been out here for two nights.'"
Paul, a 44-year-old volunteer fire captain from Warwick, Mass., said Joy told him he knew how to stay alive from watching a survival show on TV.
The 17-year-old told his rescuer he drank from a stream and used hemlock branches in a shelter he built. The teenager also said he tried to light a fire by rubbing sticks together, but wasn't successful.
Paul said he gave the skier some peanuts and crackers to eat and called 911 before whisking him about 4 miles down a mountain trail to an ambulance.
"Other than cold, he seemed to be in really good shape," Paul said.
Joy told his rescuer he got lost after cutting through the woods to try to save time after a backcountry ski trail ended. He'd had nothing to eat since he got lost, and it was a rare occasion in which he didn't have his cellphone with him, the skier told his rescuer.
The teenager's parents, Robert and Donna Joy, released a statement through the hospital thanking those who searched for their son and prayed for his recovery.
"There is great relief and happiness that Nicholas has made it through this difficult ordeal," it said.
Late in the afternoon, Donna Joy headed out of the hospital to get her son a cheeseburger and fries that he requested.
"He hasn't eaten for two days, so how would you feel?" she told reporters.
She said her son hadn't suffered any frostbite or other injuries, but would spend the night at the hospital.
The weather conditions Sunday night and Monday night were bad enough that the search had to be suspended, and Joy survived by building a mound of snow that he fashioned into a shelter that he could crawl into, said Lt. Kevin Adam, the search coordinator.
Joy was in "remarkably good shape," and it helped that the winds weren't as strong in the valley where he was found as they were up on the mountain, Adam said.
"He did the right thing in building a snow cave, and obviously he's still alive to talk about it, so he made some good decisions," Adam said.
Joy and his father split up on Sunday after taking a chairlift to the top of the mountain, and they took separate trails down in what was going to be the last run of the day, officials said. They planned to meet in a parking lot, and the father called for help when his son didn't show up.
The warden service, the Sugarloaf ski patrol, the Maine Forest Service, the U.S. Border Patrol, area rescue squads, Carrabassett Valley Academy ski volunteers and others had been searching for Joy on skis, snowshoes and snowmobiles, officials said.
Paul was not part of the official search team, but had seen the story on the news and decided to conduct an impromptu search on a trail known as the Caribou Pond Road. He owns property nearby and was out looking for Joy for about 90 minutes before the skier flagged him down.
"I know that area, so I figured I'd head that way on a snowmobile," Paul said later. "I thought that if I could help out, I would try."
When Paul brought Joy to the ambulance, the boy had a tearful reunion with his parents. David Leaming, a photographer for the Morning Sentinel newspaper, heard Joy say to his father: "I'm OK. I'm just tired."
Sugarloaf ski resort General Manager John Diller said he cried when he heard Joy was found. "It was almost like a miracle," he said.
One or two skiers get lost and are reported missing at Sugarloaf most winters, with skiers sometimes spending a night in the outdoors before being found. In a highly publicized case three years ago, four teenage snowboarders got lost after going out of bounds into ungroomed expert terrain, but they survived a cold night in dense woods and deep snow by continually moving around to stay warm.
Associated Press writer Bridget Murphy in Boston contributed to this report.