Skier dies in avalanche in Utah backcountry
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
SALT LAKE CITY – A skier has died after becoming trapped in an avalanche in a Utah backcountry area that the public was warned to avoid after potent snowstorms.
The death marks the ninth avalanche fatality in the West this season, and experts say the risk of additional slides could remain high all winter.
The latest victim was skiing with two other people when the avalanche occurred Saturday morning near Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Range, about 10 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal said.
The other two skiers managed to escape the avalanche, Hoyal said, and searchers later found their companion’s body in the snow. The victim’s name wasn’t immediately released.
“We’ve had a number of avalanches over the last couple of weeks,” Hoyal told The Associated Press. “Backcountry areas are extremely dangerous because of snow conditions.”
Utah Avalanche Center director Bruce Tremper said the group of skiers was in an area that the public was warned to avoid after last week’s snowstorms.
He said the center’s latest advisory noted avalanche conditions were dangerous and urged the public to steer clear of steep slopes such as those found in the Kessler Peak area where the fatality occurred.
“We put out the information and people are free to use it however they want to,” Tremper said. “Most people follow the advisory pretty closely.”
Experts say a weak base layer of snow due to a dry winter, packed with large grains of ice that are loosely connected, is plaguing parts of Utah, Colorado, Montana and California, and could keep avalanche risks high for the rest of the season.
Of the West’s nine avalanche deaths this season, four were in Colorado, three were along the Wyoming-Montana border, and two were in Utah, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. There were 25 deaths recorded last winter and 36 the season before.
Jamie Pierre, a world-record-holding professional skier, died in a Nov. 13 avalanche in the mountains near Salt Lake City while on a steep slope at a closed ski resort.
Avalanche deaths are much more common in the backcountry than at ski resorts.
Tremper said he didn’t know if he would be able to check out the Utah backcountry area where the latest fatality occurred.
“It sounds like a dangerous site,” he said. “I’m not sure I can get in there safely. I might not go into it.”
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International visitors have traditionally accounted for 10 to 20 percent of Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier visits in recent past seasons. Travel fears and restrictions tied to the coronavirus are expected to wipe out most of that market for 2020-21.