By: Kyler Roush
This last week, without a shadow of doubt in my mind was by far the BEST week of skiing and riding so far this year. The Cottonwood resorts all received nearly 4 feet of 5% density champagne powder. Not only was the skiing amazing, both Snowbird and Alta reached a 100 inch base for the first time this season.
Outside the confines of resorts it was a different picture entirely. Over the weekend there were 4 separate accidents, 1 of which resulted in Utah’s 5th avalanche related fatality this season.
Beaver Basin area in the La Sal Mountains near Moab
A group of 4 snowmobilers began their trip from Colorado on the morning of March 2nd. They made their way into Utah following their leader who had been in the area before. The group began passing through a slide path one at a time. The first 3 riders made it through without incident. The 4th rider was caught in a slide that came from above.
Of the 3 riders not involved, they had one beacon, one probe and two shovels. The debris pile was 30 feet deep in areas which prevented thorough probing. The group had 1 probe strike at the full depth of their probe which they began digging at. The group was unable to find their partner in probable locations after nearly 2 hours of searching. One rider rode out 2 hours before gaining cell phone service.
Search and rescue arrived at the scene and continued the search. They continued digging at the first probe strike and found the snowmobile 12 feet down. The search was called off and continued the next morning with a group of 50 people forming probe lines. The rider was eventually found several feet uphill of the snowmobile buried 12 feet down as well.
The crown varied from 1-4 feet and 700 feet wide and ran 1000 vertical feet and funneled into a 300 foot wide gully.
Our deepest condolences go out to the young man’s family and friends after this tragic event.
Toilet Bowl, Snowbasin Resort Backcountry
The second accident of the weekend involved 2 experienced backcountry skiers. However neither of the skiers had formal avalanche training or any rescue equipment. They were on their second lap of the day when a slab broke out 130 feet wide and up to 3 feet deep. Both skiers were on the slab, one was able to get off onto the bed surface and the second rode with the slab and was able to self arrest onto a tree. Search and rescue was called to the scene and determined no one else was involved.
West Porter Fork, Mill Creek Canyon
The third accident of the weekend ended with a favorable ending compared to how it could have. Three skiers where preparing to ski their line when the first skier performed a ski cut. He was then caught, carried, and fully buried when the slide stopped. All three skiers had beacons and the buried skier was found and quickly dug out from 3 feet under. The buried skier was uninjured and skied out without assistance.
Blackjack, Snowbird Ski Resort
The fourth incident is another tragedy adverted. A snowboarder was caught, carried, and partially buried in an inbounds slide at around 2pm that ranged from 2-3 feet deep and 600 feet long. The boarder suffered only minor injuries. Snowbird had recently performed avalanche control work in the area and it had been open to the public all day.
In addition to these accidents numerous other natural and human triggered slides occurred over the weekend. Many of the avalanches had crowns over 2 feet. One slide that occurred around the Park City area had a 6 foot crown was 900 feet wide and took the entire seasons snowpack down with it.
If you are going to travel in the Backcountry this season make sure you aren’t a statistic.
- Check the daily Utah Avalanche Center’s forecast
- Get educated, minimum of an Avy 1
- Have a partner
- Wear a beacon (inbounds too)
- Have a shovel and probe
As seen with the Mill Creek Canyon Accident, those involved had the proper equipment and knew how to use it and this can only happen with regular practice.