Saturday's Deadly Slide Highlights Extreme Avalanche Danger in the Wasatch Backcountry
A second deadly backcountry avalanche in the first month of 2021 has claimed the life of another Utahn.
The victim in the Saturday, Jan. 30, backcountry avalanche outside the boundaries of Park City Mountain Resort’s Canyons Village, in the area known as Square Top, was identified as 57-year-old Kurt Damschroder of Park City.
According to a press release from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, the avalanche was triggered by Damschroder and his friend, another skier, Saturday afternoon around 3:30 p.m., outside the boundaries of Park City Mountain Resort, accessed off the 99-90 chairlift.
Damschroder was caught in the avalanche. The other skier was able to call 911 and locate Damschroder using a beacon. He was able to dig him out and attempted life-saving efforts for more than an hour, but he was forced to leave the area due to the continued extreme avalanche danger.
Crews went back up Sunday to compete the mitigation work to access the avalanche site and recover Damschroder’s body.
Utah Avalanche Center forecaster Nikki Champion says even though people are familiar with backcountry terrain and are well prepared with the knowledge and equipment to be in the backcountry, it is always a risk to venture out when conditions are as unstable as they have been this winter.
“The main issue we're dealing with is this persistent weak layer, so all of these human-triggered avalanches and natural avalanches over the past few days, tell us that this week faceted snowpack has reached its breaking point,” she said. “It's showing us its card, producing these deep and dangerous avalanches two to four feet deep and hundreds of feet wide, and in areas that have any signs of winter for snow we could see avalanches breaking even deeper five to 10 feet deep. So the bottom line is, our snow pack is junk right now, and shouldn't be messed with. There's no outsmarting a persistent weak problem. Avoidance is the answer.”
She added that the Utah Avalanche Center and Park City Mountain Resort Ski Patrol investigated the accident and will have a full report up on the UAC website later this week.
The avalanche danger remains considerable on upper elevation aspects and mid-elevation aspects facing northwest through southeast. If you are leaving a resort boundary through an exit point, you are stepping in considerable avalanche danger. Stick to terrain less than 30 degrees slope in steepness.
Kurt Damschroder was a longtime Park City local and loved to spend time outdoors. He is survived by his girlfriend and family, who live in Park City, as well as many friends.