Snow disasters mar weekend in the woods
After a night spent in freezing temperatures in the Uinta Mountains two Wyoming men were rescued in good condition. Sunday their snowmobiles became stuck near Lyman Lake east of Kamas.
The search capped a weekend of snow-related disasters that claimed several lives in the West.
Wyoming residents Bruce Christy and Richard Gill were the two who survived after becoming stranded Sunday evening in a remote part of northeastern Summit County.
"We were working in the storm all night," said Don LaFay, commander of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team. "The snow conditions are just terrible up there and we didn’t have the luxury of having a chopper with us at all."
Throughout the operation the stranded men were in contact with a team of 17 searchers until they were located Monday around 11 a.m.
"We had a pretty good hunch of where they were, we just had a really tough time," LaFay said. "We were out for 18 hours."
A 16-year-old snowmobiler in Wasatch County, however, wasn’t as fortunate.
An avalanche killed Zachary Holmes, who was riding a snowmobile near Woodland on Saturday, according to Utah Avalanche Center forecaster Craig Gordon.
The boy was wearing a helmet and avalanche beacon, say investigators who explained that the avalanche occurred at an elevation of roughly 9,700 feet.
After he was dug out of the snow Holmes reportedly died at a hospital in Salt Lake City.
Gordon estimates the avalanche that killed Holmes near Tower Mountain in Wasatch County was nearly three feet deep and 300 feet wide.
Investigators say the slide triggered by the rider that ran about 200 vertical feet occurred on a slope steeper than 36 degrees.
"I talked to one of the victims just briefly and he was very shaken up," LaFay said.
Meanwhile, searchers in Summit County Friday night responded to the Whitney Basin area near the Mirror Lake Highway when one man in his 20s became lost.
The Evanston man’s snowmobile got stuck in the snow, said LaFay, who added that 14 searchers looked for the man until he was spotted flashing his high beams from a helicopter.
"That really helps out when you can get a chopper like that to spot them from the air," LaFay said, adding that the man was located in good condition.
Last weekend volunteer searchers from Summit County worked roughly 400 hours and traveled 4,200 miles, according to LaFay.
"It’s just really, really extreme," he said, cautioning people to stay off slopes steeper than 35 degrees. "Our big concern right now is just avalanche potential."
Before dropping into a bowl he cautions snowmobilers to "make sure you can get out."
"You go to have a good time and boy you sure want to come back later and have another one," LaFay said. "There are so many areas that you can go and have a great time and not have to get into these high-avalanche areas."
Gordon in a telephone interview Tuesday lamented the three avalanche-related deaths that occurred last weekend in Utah. A skier near Ogden died, as did a snowmobiler in Sevier County.
"I’m bummed," Gordon said. "We make huge efforts to get the information out to people and the powder and sunshine can be too intoxicating an allure."
Gordon cautions people to equip themselves with beacons, probes and shovels, and to gain a basic education in avalanche science before entering the backcountry.
"The biggest clue to avalanches is avalanches," Gordon said, advising people to look for signs of slide activity. "If things are avalanching before you can even get there, then it’s not safe."
Updates on avalanche conditions in the Uinta Mountains and around Park City can be obtained at utahavalanchecenter.com or by calling (888) 999-4019.
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