A Park City man working for the Utah Department of Transportation died Thursday in an avalanche in Big Cottonwood Canyon, the authorities in Salt Lake County said.
Craig Patterson was 34 years old and was an avalanche forecaster. His duties included checking the snow pack and snow stability to ensure the safety of roads from avalanches.
Justin Hoyal, a lieutenant with Unified Police in the Salt Lake Valley, said he was skiing in the Cardiff Fork area of Big Cottonwood Canyon as part of his Utah Department of Transportation duties. Co-workers last spoke to him at 1:30 p.m.
Hoyal said Patterson did not come home in the evening and his family called coworkers. The other workers found his car parked in the vicinity of Cardiff Fork and contacted Unified Police at 7:39 p.m.
A medical helicopter was summoned as part of the response. The helicopter crew located Patterson's body on the east face of Cardiff Fork. Hoyal said it appeared Patterson was the victim of an avalanche. Cardiff Fork is situated on the south side of Big Cottonwood Canyon approximately three miles down the canyon from Solitude Mountain Resort.
A search and rescue team from the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office recovered his body at 12:45 a.m. Friday. Detectives are continuing the investigation and an autopsy is planned. Unified Police did not immediately have details about the size of the avalanche.
Hoyal called the death a "sad and tragic event."
The Utah Department of Transportation issued a statement describing Patterson as a "veteran avalanche forecaster." He was an experienced backcountry skier and worked for the Utah Department of Transportation since 2006.
"He was out doing the job that he loved to do, making the canyon safer for everyone to enjoy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones as we continue to gather information about this terrible tragedy," the statement said.
The department planned to send the avalanche forecast team to the scene on Friday to investigate the site. The Utah Avalanche Center said the danger of avalanches in the Salt Lake region, which includes Big Cottonwood Canyon, is moderate.
Gov. Gary Herbert, notified of the death Thursday night, released a prepared statement offering condolences.“I am deeply saddened by the death of Craig Patterson in the line of duty. By all accounts, he was a dedicated state employee who was admired and respected for his professionalism and expertise in making our canyons safer for countless Utahns," Herbert said. "He also was devoted father and loving husband. During this difficult time, Jeanette and I offer my sincerest condolences and heartfelt prayers on behalf of all Utahns to Craig's wife Renea and their daughter. He will be dearly missed.”