Two snowboarders buried, seriously injured in avalanche outside of Park City, Utah
January 16, 2017
Two snowboarders were rescued late Wednesday night after becoming buried and seriously injured in an avalanche on a backcountry slope near the Smith and Morehouse Reservoir in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
The two men, who are in their 40s and from the Salt Lake Valley, were with a group of 11 near Mud Lake Flats, said Lt. Andrew Wright, with the Summit County Sheriffs Office. He said the avalanche occurred at around 4 p.m. when one of the boarders jumped off a cliff, fracturing a large slab of snow.
"We weren't notified until around 8:15 p.m. when people that were involved with the party finally made it down to Oakley where they had cell phone service," Wright said.
The group was unable to contact law enforcement officials immediately after the avalanche because of limited phone service, Wright said. Three members of the group took a snowcat out of the area to reach their vehicles, but it broke down on the way. They were eventually able to hike down to Oakley to notify authorities of the situation.
The slide carried one of the men, slamming him into trees on the way down, Wright said. He reportedly broke both of his legs and was airlifted by a medical helicopter to a Salt Lake-area hospital. The other man was trapped under several feet of snow for up to eight minutes, Wright said.
"He was almost completely buried and only the tip of his snowboard was sticking up out of the snow. When they found him he was gasping for air because he was suffocating," Wright said. "He had actually told rescuers he had an avalanche beacon on, but it wasn't working so he turned it off."
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Wright said one of the snowboarders told search and rescue he though they might trigger an avalanche, but didn't think it would as big as it was.
"Unfortunately they didn't heed the warnings and they are super lucky because they should have been dead based off of the size of that slide," Wright said. "We're glad they are OK and alive. We are glad it was this outcome instead of digging out bodies, but it was still a bad situation and I think we will be dealing with this for the rest of the winter."
Craig Gordon, a forecaster with the Utah Avalanche Center, said avalanche danger in the Uinta and Wasatch Mountains remains high in certain backcountry areas, meaning human-triggered slides are likely. He said other zones are experiencing considerable danger as storms continue to drop light, fluffy now on top of already dense snow.
"Avalanche conditions right now are deceptively tricky because there is amazing coverage and that is just going to feel bomber and good to go under our boards, skies and sleds," Gordon said. "But the snow we are riding in and the snow we are riding on, all that snow sits on a weak layer because we have just seen a parade of storms slamming into the Utah mountains over the past couple of weeks."
Gordon said conditions will start trending toward a more stable snowpack.
"During the first couple of sunny days after a big storm people are psyched to get on the snow and they tend to ramp up their objectives a couple of notches," Gordon said. "But now its time to exercise a little bit of patience. Its a real tenuous time in the snowpacks existence right now."
"Avalanche conditions are constantly changing," Gordon said, adding if people plan on heading out into the backcountry they should be armed with the latest advisory for their zone.
"We enjoy a great winter season here in Utah and really it's just getting going. The next couple of days they could be tenuous and the lifespan and stability of our snowpack and conditions will remain dangerous," Gordon said. "It doesn't mean you cant go out and ride in the backcountry, but you need to tone your slope angles down and make sure you are not connected to or beneath any steep avalanche-prone terrain because slides are breaking hundreds of feet wide and could easily be five or six feet deep."
For up-to-date information about avalanche conditions in Utahs northern mountains, go to https://utahavalanchecenter.org.