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Park City • A tangle of ski tracks led straight into an avalanche zone Wednesday afternoon, but after hours of searching authorities concluded that no one had been trapped on the mountain just outside the Canyons Ski Resort.
The slide occurred about 12:15 p.m., in the Dutch Draw area, which is adjacent to the Canyons Ski Resort and where two people have died in the past seven years. Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said the avalanche was about 200 feet wide and began with 100 inches of snow from the ridge line. He described the area as a popular "bowl-like" stretch of backcountry.
But by 3 p.m., after searching by air, with ground crews and avalanche dogs, investigators said they were confident there were no victims in the slide.
"At this time SAR [search and rescue] and all other resources are preparing to clear the area," Edmunds tweeted.
The decision put to rest concerns that a skier may have been trapped, which arose from a discrepancy in the number of tracks leading into and out of the slide zone. Edmunds later noted that discrepancies in avalanche areas are not uncommon.
Authorities believe the avalanche was human-triggered, with a group of nine skiers most likely responsible, according to Edmunds. The group of 20-something men and women were questioned Wednesday afternoon.
The area is out-of-bounds for ski resort users, which Edmunds said means skiers use it "at their own peril." Though authorities can cite users of out-of-bounds areas, they released the nine skiers who immediately returned to the slopes without penalty, as per standard procedure. Edmunds added that the area has been marked with warning signs prominently featuring skull-and-crossbones imagery.
"I don't know how more explicit you could be," Edmunds noted.
Forest Service avalanche forecaster Craig Gordon, who works with the Utah Avalanche Center, said the skiers were lucky to escape unscathed. According to Gordon, avalanche danger is high in Utah's mountains because a recent storm left a cohesive layer of heavy snow on top of weaker "sugary" snow.
"For the next couple of days, tricky backcountry avalanche conditions will exist," Gordon said.
Wednesday's avalanche site is adjacent to the ski resort's Ninety-Nine 90 Express lift, but outside the ski area and on U.S. Forest Service property.
It is the same area where Timothy Robert Baker, a 24-year-old Salt Lake City man, died while snowboarding last February. Idaho snowboarder Shane Maixner died in January 2005 in the same area after crossing through a resort gate, dropping into Dutch Draw and being buried.
For more information on current avalanche conditions check utahavalanchecenter.org or call 888-999 4019.