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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) -- Four skiers who ventured into an out-of-bounds area between The Canyons and Park City Ski Resort are lucky to be alive after they were trapped in an avalanche Saturday, according to Summit County Search and Rescue crews.
Three men and a woman, all Utah residents from ages 44 to 59, were skiing in an area called "No Name Bowl" when an avalanche let loose. It was the first time this ski season that rescue crews were called out on an avalanche.
Heavy snowfall and blowing wind made the avalanche danger Saturday afternoon extremely high, said Summit County Sheriff's Sgt. Mike Dorman.
At 12:44 p.m., the sheriff's office received a call from the group saying that they had been caught in an avalanche. The skiers, which were well equipped for the backcountry, were able to dig themselves out with shovels but were unable to continue skiing down the mountain because they lost most of their equipment, Dorman said.
Because the weather was still bad, search and rescue crews started rounding up snowmobiles to get to the group. Visibility was near zero when the accident was reported.
But searchers had a bit of luck about 4 p.m. when the weather briefly cleared.
"We put a helicopter in the air and flew them out," he said.
The group was checked by paramedics at the command post and all four were determined to be uninjured and were released before 5 p.m.
Dorman said searchers weren't able to determine how big the avalanche was because of the weather. But he said that based on the conditions, the outcome could have been much worse.
"They are very, very fortunate it worked out this way. They are lucky they weren't hurt or killed," Dorman said.
During the 2004-2005 ski season, eight people were killed in avalanches in Utah, making it one of the deadliest seasons since the state began keeping records in the 1950s.
One of those deaths was Shane Maxiner, 27, who was killed in January after being caught in a large avalanche while snowboarding in Dutch Draw region, an out-of-bounds bowl off the Ninety Nine 90 chair lift at The Canyons.
The Utah Avalanche Forecast Center's Web page lists more than a dozen avalanches since mid-November, with five people who were caught but managed to escape unharmed.
Dorman hopes this early season slide acts a reminder to others.
"If you ski out of bounds, you're literally taking your life in your own hands. These people were extremely fortunate," Dorman said.
Also Saturday, the Utah Highway Patrol and local police and fire departments were kept busy with a mixture of bad weather and numerous traffic accidents from about 4 p.m. through the night.
Between 5:30 and 7 p.m., dispatchers at the Valley Emergency Communications Center estimated at least 30 accidents.
The Utah Highway Patrol had responded to 75 crashes and 15 slide-offs by 8:45 p.m. in Salt Lake County and 12 crashes and nine slide-offs in Utah County.
Information from: Deseret Morning News, http://www.deseretnews.com
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)