Slide that buried snowmobiler 'red flag' for upcoming Utah avalanche conditions

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Avalanche Center is explaining how a slide that swept up a snowmobiler and his sled is a warning sign of what's to come this spring.

The avalanche wasn't what one would call huge by any means. Only a couple feet deep, and narrow, said avalanche forecaster Craig Gordon.

"But it was enough snow to push this gentleman downhill, completely bury him, he loses consciousness for a few minutes," Gordon recounted.

The things that saved him, according to Gordon and the Summit County Sheriff's Office — the man had a single gloved hand poking out of the snow, and his friends had all the proper rescue gear to quickly dig him out.

His snowmobile was also totally submerged by the slide.

While the avalanche near Whitney Reservoir in the high Uintas sounds dramatic, it was one of 10 slides reported to the Utah Avalanche Center on Monday alone. On Sunday, the center received eight avalanche reports.

Every slide except two were triggered by people either skiing, snowboarding or snowmobiling. One slide triggered naturally, according to the site's report, and another was discovered after it broke, so it's unknown how it was triggered.

The close call by Whitney Reservoir hit close to home for the Chalk Creek Riders Snowmobile Club. The organization hosted its Rally in the Valley event in the same general area just two days prior.

The rally raises money for the Utah Snowmobile Association, for avalanche education, snowmobile safety and access to trails.

Cal Taylor, president of the association, said his heart sank after hearing about his fellow snowmobiler in Monday's slide.

The event Saturday went off without a hitch, as people rode in various areas.

"We had well over 100 people that came, and we didn't have any accidents, we didn't have any problems. Everybody came back, we were good," he said.

Taylor and Cody Sargent, president of the Chalk Creek Riders Snowmobile Club, explained how the event focused on education, etiquette and avalanche safety.

Representatives from the Utah Avalanche Center and Department of Natural Resources had stations for people to stop at, they indicated, and money raised went toward the Utah Snowmobile Association avalanche classes held around the state for ongoing education.

"Educate yourself and practice," Taylor urged. "Because if things do happen, we want a good outcome like this, that the guy was able to ride away."

He credits the snowmobiler and his group Monday for having proper avalanche gear and calling 911 right away when they saw trouble. Even though the rider buried didn't use the medical helicopter that arrived on scene, Taylor talked about how it was the right call to have authorities ready to go.

Taylor and Sargent know this winter has been unusual and said conditions are not normal for this time of year.

Gordon called the avalanche conditions right now "peculiar."

"In the past few days, we've seen avalanches triggered from a distance, hundreds of feet away. And this means that avalanche danger is just teetering on the edge," he said.

He expected avalanche conditions to worsen Tuesday night going into Wednesday morning, as another storm arrives.

"(Monday's) close call is a huge red flag," he said. "Even though this was a small avalanche, as we add more storm snow to this weak layer, avalanches are going to break much deeper and wider than we might expect."

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Lauren Steinbrecher
Lauren Steinbrecher is an Emmy award-winning reporter and multimedia journalist who joined KSL in December 2021.


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