Park City-area avalanche buries skier in harrowing backcountry episode (w/video)
February 19, 2019
An avalanche in the backcountry south of Park City on Saturday buried the skier who triggered the slide before others with the man rescued him, the Utah Avalanche Center said, a case that illustrates the continuing danger after the pummeling storms of recent weeks.
The Utah Avalanche Center said the slide occurred just east of Brighton Estates, a cabin community in Wasatch County, at an elevation of 9,000 feet. It was not immediately clear whether the avalanche occurred in Wasatch County. The Utah Avalanche Center said the slide occurred in the vicinity of Guardsman Pass, a high-elevation area close to the borders of Summit, Wasatch and Salt Lake counties.
The avalanche stretched 200 feet wide and traveled downhill approximately 200 vertical feet. It was 3 feet deep. The Utah Avalanche Center said the slide was on an eastern aspect on a slope that is 47 degrees steep.
A description posted to the Utah Avalanche Center website said the person who triggered the slide was the fourth skier on that slope on Saturday.
"We knew the steep part of the slope had a likelihood of breaking but thought it would be manageable. (We) all underestimated the amount of snowpack that broke," the description said.
It indicated snow approximately 1 foot deep buried the skier. One ski stuck out of the snow, the description said. The skier was rescued from under the snow within a minute, according to the Utah Avalanche Center. A harrowing video of the avalanche was posted to the Utah Avalanche Center website.
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Trent Meisenheimer, a Utah Avalanche Center forecaster who investigated the Saturday slide, said in an interview the avalanche occurred on a small but steep slope. He said the person who was buried was with several other people in the backcountry when they built a skier jump out of the snow. The person went off the jump, landed on an especially steep part of the slope and triggered the avalanche, Meisenheimer said. The other people saw the slide and converged on the area where they saw the ski sticking out of the snow, he said, describing the scene as a "full burial except for his ski tip sticking out of the snow."
The others were equipped with gear to rescue someone after an avalanche, including shovels, Meisenheimer said. They were "aware they were in avalanche terrain," he said. The person was buried for approximately 75 seconds, he said.
"They just started digging and getting to his head," he said, adding, "Stuff did go right, because he lived. His partners were in a good location and were watching him."
The Utah Avalanche Center said early in the week there was a moderate danger of avalanches in the Park City-area backcountry. There was also a moderate danger in the Salt Lake-area mountains. The danger rating was high in the Uinta Mountains early in the week, according to the Utah Avalanche Center.
The Utah Avalanche Center recommends people in the backcountry pay attention to the others they are with and carry a shovel, avalanche probes and avalanche beacons. The organization also recommends people be in a spot where they can quickly mount a rescue.