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Woman survives burial in backcountry avalanche near Alta

Published December 9, 2013 9:48 pm
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A skier was buried in an avalanche Monday in the backcountry near Alta, but she escaped serious injury.

The woman walked away from her burial site after passers-by unearthed her less than 10 minutes after she was swallowed by the slide, said Utah Avalanche Center forecaster Brett Kobernik. She had activated an inflatable airbag in her backpack, which contributed to her swift rescue.

Her rescuers happened to have been filming her run down Grizzly Gulch in the Wasatch Mountains about 2:30 p.m.; the footage shows her triggering the 150-foot-wide avalanche. The passers-by were close to the slide and rushed to her aid.

"We have a lot of weakness within the snowpack right now, and it does not look good for the long term," Kobernik warned. "Be cautious out there for awhile."

The woman was skiing on a north face at about 9,200 feet elevation — conditions that were considered to bring "considerable" avalanche risk on Monday, Kobernik said.

"Human-triggered avalanches are likely at those aspects and elevations," he said.

The inflatable airbag likely kept the woman close enough to the surface for the passers-by to find her easily with a beacon and probe, Kobernik said. The devices, though pricey — typically at least $1,000 — have become more popular in recent years among skiers and snow safety teams, Kobernik said.

"We've heard of all types of deployments, with good results," he said. "This is the first time I've heard of someone who was actually buried after it was deployed."

Kobernik said the snow appears to have been funnelled into a narrow track, deepening the slide and overwhelming the airbag.

Meanwhile, a natural avalanche thundered down a slope just east of the Wasatch Mountains' Sunset Peak early Monday afternoon, but no injuries were reported.

The slides underscored the backcountry danger to winter sports enthusiasts due to recent snowfall and extremely cold temperatures.

The 1-foot deep by 150-foot long slide near the 10,648-foot elevation peak was observed about 12:30 p.m., according to the Utah Avalanche Center.

Sunset Peak, one of several peaks along a ridgeline that ends in Big Cottonwood Canyon, was rated at "considerable" risk for avalanches on Monday, along with other mountain slopes within the Salt Lake district.

The preliminary avalanche danger ratings found the Logan mountains at "considerable" risk for potentially deadly slides, while the Salt Lake, Provo, Ogden, Moab and Skyline districts all were at "moderate."


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Caught on tape

See video of the avalanche at sltrib.com






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