Two young men — 2,000 miles apart and within a few days of each other — parted from friends late at night and walked into a maelstrom of cold, darkness and driving snow.
In the separate incidents, Alphonse "Michael" Barbiere in Colorado and Nicholas Garza in Vermont headed out alone on foot, each without a warm, winter jacket. Neither made it home, though both had only about a half-mile to go.
In at least one case and possibly the other, alcohol was a toxic ingredient that made a night of youthful socializing a perfect storm for disaster.
Today, local police say both men's bodies are likely buried in snow, the youths victims of punishing weather that has plagued much of the United States and dumped blizzard after blizzard on two small mountain towns.
Barbiere, a 23-year-old Wyckoff, N.J., resident who was on vacation with friends, has been missing since Feb. 8 after he left a Breckenridge, Colo., martini bar about 1:30 a.m. Police said the young Wall Street trader had consumed more than 20 drinks and was "highly intoxicated."
The Rocky Mountain ski resort town, which sits at an altitude of 9,600 feet, reported 65 m.p.h. winds and another fresh foot of snow the night Barbiere went missing.
"It's the scariest conditions I've seen in my 19 years here," police spokesman Kim Green told ABCNews.com. "[Barbiere] did leave in treacherous conditions, and he'd only been at that altitude for 24 hours. The alcohol and the weather conditions were a bad combination."
Scores of specialized rescue groups, including avalanche dogs, combed the half-mile of snow-covered streets between the bar and Barbiere's condo before all but the local search was called off on Saturday.
Across the country, at the foot of the Green Mountains in rural Vermont, police were scouring the snow-covered Middlebury College campus for Garza, a 19-year-old student from New Mexico who went missing on Feb. 6.
That night, a snowstorm added another 10 inches of snow to the foot already on the ground. Since then two more feet of powder has fallen, according to police.
The physical search for the freshman was temporarily called off Wednesday because the National Weather Service had called for another 14 inches of snow. Rescue teams and trained dogs had combed the small campus, including probing deep drifts of snow that had cascaded off roofs.
Middlebury police are also conducting a missing person investigation, but Chief Tom Hanley said, "There's not a shred of evidence [Garza] left campus."
Garza was last seen by friends about 11:30 p.m. after watching television in a dorm lounge — only a seven minute walk from his own room. Alcohol may have been involved "to some extent," said Hanley.
A friend grew suspicious the next day when he could not reach Garza. Police found Garza's coat, cell phone charger and iPod in his dorm room. Attempts to "ping" his cell phone and locate Garza were not successful.
Both the Breckenridge and Middlebury regions are winter paradises — temporary homes to thousands of college students, skiers and young vacationers, who often socialize with alcohol.
Breckenridge police said they receive three to four calls a night to respond to alcohol-related incidents in local bars. "We see kids walk down the street, not properly dressed, staggering," said Green. "We get them a taxi cab."