The Park Record editorial, February 25-28, 2012 | ParkRecord.com

The Park Record editorial, February 25-28, 2012

Avalanche is a reminder of the value of forecast, rescue groups

A fatal avalanche in a ski town is the equivalent of a shark attack at a seaside resort. It is the kind of tragedy that rocks the whole community and underscores the fine line that mountain and ocean lovers straddle between immersing themselves in nature’s extreme beauty and cowering in the face of its ferocious power.

Timothy Baker, a 24-year-old snowboarder who worked in Park City, unintentionally crossed that line on Thursday. He died from injuries sustained in an avalanche in Dutch Draw, a popular backcountry bowl near the top of Canyons resort.

News of the accident traveled swiftly through the skiing and snowboarding community. Even before the victim’s name was released, many assumed it was a friend or a kindred spirit lucky enough to have the day-after-a-snowstorm off.

We hope those people will turn their sorrow toward heightened awareness of their own vulnerability in the backcountry. Everyone who travels beyond the boundaries of Park City’s groomed slopes should take some time to reacquaint themselves with the most current avalanche safety technology and practices.

One good opportunity to do that is being presented, coincidentally, this coming week at the Utah Olympic Park Museum where the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center is presenting

"Know Before You Go," an introductory-level class about backcountry avalanche safety. The class will take place at Wednesday, Feb. 29 at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

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The accident also highlighted the readiness and expertise of local patrollers and backcountry volunteers who are on call throughout the winter to prevent these kinds of tragedies. Most of them come from two important organizations dedicated to backcountry safety, the Utah Avalanche Center and Wasatch Backcountry Rescue.

It is impossible to guess how many lives have been saved by their efforts. The Utah Avalanche Center is known for providing accurate, extensive, up-to-date information about snow conditions throughout the state while Wasatch Backcountry Rescue focuses on training and coordinating rescuers from a broad base of agencies including the resorts’ ski patrols, police and sheriff’s departments and volunteers. Both also provide numerous outreach programs to help educate the public.

While neither can halt all future avalanche fatalities, this week’s tragedy is a reminder of how much both groups do to maximize the community’s awareness and minimize the risks of enjoying the backcountry. To honor them, we would like to suggest that local backcountry users make a contribution to help further those efforts. To support the Utah Avalanche Center, log on to http://utahavalanchecenter.org/ For Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, contact Dean Cardinale at dcardinale@snowbird.com