All week long, the forecasters at the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center cautioned you are stepping into a considerable hazard once you leave the boundaries of a patrolled ski area. Still, several human triggered avalanches were reported along the Park City ridgeline all week, ultimately ending in the death of a Clinton man.
Avalanche forecaster Nikki Champion said a solo snowboarder triggered a 125 foot wide 200 foot long avalanche on a low angled east facing slope on Monday in the area known as Sound of Music. The snowboarder had fortunately pulled beneath a tree to release his foot from his binding – when he looked up and saw the avalanche coming down and was able to stay out of the path. It's a reminder she says that avalanches can come out of nowhere...
Yeah, he was safe, but we've been seeing a lot of these avalanches being triggered remotely from below,” Champion said. “That's what we talk about you don't want to be beneath these steep slopes, because you could trigger it - yeah, you can trigger it from even lower down on the slope.”
On Tuesday, forecasters were out checking the conditions and remotely trigged a slide on the south pocket of West Monitor on a northly facing slope. They were climbing about 100 feet away when the slide let loose. It was about 100 feet wide and 18 inches deep.
Also, on Tuesday, in the Dutch Draw area, there were three more human trigged slides – two of them by riders and one was triggered remotely. Despite the high danger of avalanche, Forecaster Drew Hardesty said there were dozens of snow riders out rolling the dice. Again, the persistent weak layer was the cause of the slides.
Hardesty says there have been many close calls – and it’s not a matter of if – but when - that someone will get caught in a slide...
“Our luck is gonna run out soon,” Hardesty cautioned on Thursday. Even from the vantage of the ski resorts on the Park City ridgeline, it seemed that unintentionally triggered avalanches and close calls continued without pause for most of the day. Even solo skiers getting caught and carried in steep avalanche terrain and, you know, it's not but for the grace of God, I should say. It's really something and conditions are dangerous. I'm really surprised we didn't have any fatalities or more significant avalanche accidents. Conditions remain just as dangerous as they were yesterday and we're telling people to avoid steep terrain in the backcountry and kind of wait for things to settle down.”
On Friday, a 31 year old man was riding the Dutch Draw area and triggered an avalanche that carried and buried him. He was pronounced dead on scene. Hardesty understands the draw to the back country, but for those who exit the ski area gates, he says they’re risking their lives if they don’t know what they’re doing...
“We have world class powder and honestly, it’s some of the best skiing/riding of the year,” Hardesty said. Right from the ski areas – you can very easily - well from the Canyons ski area – I think the other resorts have closed boundaries - you can very easily – access the Park City ridgeline. Square Top and Red Rock chutes and the Monitors and on and on and on, and just riding a chair, you can get up there and very easily access this very steep dangerous terrain – and Square Top is a known killer.
There have been more than 20 avalanches reported since the beginning of the year in the Slat Lake mountains – and several more in the Uintas, and Logan mountains. If you’re headed out – make sure you are prepared – are travelling with someone and have excellent route finding skills.