Yesterday was surreal. While finishing up the day’s work in preparation for attending our Aspen community avalanche safety seminar, I found out that a gigantic avalanche had fallen next to The Canyons resort in Utah. Heading over to kutv.com to check it out, I was amazed to see live rescue coverage on a TV feed from a hovering helicopter.
It was a jaw dropper. Sitting at your computer, you could watch as numerous helicopters dropped backcountry skiing rescue teams, then periodically the view would zoom out and you’d see the rescuers as tiny ants in a vast debris field we now know reaches thirty feet deep. Later, the same live feed showed a team probing and digging a possible find by a rescue dog. They’re shoving their probes all the way in to their fists, while digging a six foot deep hole — then coming up dry.
It’s an awful situation. Apparently if there are “backcountry” skiers caught, none have beacons. The area is a “front country” slope that’s proximate to the resort, where unequipped yahoos can boot for a short distance, then drop into a huge and deadly avalanche slope. More, the rescuers are in danger from avalanches above (mitigated by dynamite thrown from helicopters before the rescue began, but no avy danger in such places is 100% gone). Years ago the resort placed huge signs with skull/crossbones at the entrance to the slope, but that appears to have made little difference in outcome. Adding to the tragedy, the Utah avalanche warning for yesterday made it very clear you could easily die on slopes exactly like the one that slid.
(Update: only one person died in the Utah avalanche, the guy who started it.)
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.