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PARK CITY - An exhausting four-day search for victims of a massive avalanche near The Canyons ski resort is over. Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said Shane Maixner, 27, who was found Sunday beneath 4 feet of snow, is probably the only person who perished.

Investigators have whittled a list of overdue or missing people to three, but Edmunds said he is doubtful they were caught in the avalanche, which Maixner is believed to have triggered.

Searchers began scouring the steep slope just after 1 p.m. Friday without knowing how many people they were looking for, although they believed as many as five were caught in the avalanche, according to eyewitness accounts.

As of Monday, however, there was no compelling evidence to suggest there were more victims, the sheriff said.

Witness accounts of what happened may have been "clouded" by the fear they experienced as they watched the disaster unfold, he said.

"They all saw something different, and this is not atypical of a situation like this."

Edmunds said the search "could ramp back up if we get further information."

Maixner's death brought Utah's 2004-05 avalanche season fatality total to seven, the most since 1950, when officials began tracking avalanche deaths.

While searchers uncovered pieces of clothing not belonging to Maixner, they believe the scattered, miscellaneous items may have been left there over time, by other skiers.

The number of searchers probing the 30-foot deep avalanche Monday was about a third the size of the crew that assembled Saturday. They navigated through bulky, debris-littered terrain in dangerous avalanche conditions, and by late Monday were fatigued, Edmunds said.

At the top of the Ninety Nine 90 Express ski lift Monday, which opened to the public for the first time since the avalanche occurred, skiers and snowboarders gawked at the devastation from behind a temporarily erected rope boundary. Ski patrol members explained to the curious onlookers that their presence on the mountain could trigger additional slides, putting the searchers' lives in peril.

By dusk Monday, only a few Red Cross workers lingered at the command center at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Park City to stack up chairs and break down tables

"This has been a huge ordeal," Edmunds said. "There have been a lot of people who have helped us through this."

The tab for the search, which is in the tens of thousands of dollars, will be jointly paid for by Summit County and the state, the sheriff said.

An accident report issued Monday by the U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center says there was some initial agreement that a snowboarder "launched over a cliff, triggering the massive slide that engulfed him and an unknown number of others that were either on the same slope or in the runout below."

Though the report does not mention Maixner by name, it says the snowboarder's body was recovered Sunday.

Rescue dogs alerted searchers to the Sandpoint, Idaho, man's body, which was found with goggles, a snowboard and a helmet.

The "hard-slab avalanche" broke up to 6 to 8 feet deep and 700 feet wide, the report states, and was composed of hard and dense new snow, wind-deposited new snow and a weak layer of snow formed during November's dry spell.

Edmunds said skiing out of bounds at ski resorts, which is what Maixner did, is a class B misdemeanor in Summit County. About a dozen people are arrested every year for the violation.

He would not speculate on whether Maixner would have been arrested had he survived the run and been observed by deputies.

"One of the things we like to do, and continue to do," Edmunds said, "is reiterate how dangerous the backcountry is."


Tribune reporter Justin Hill contributed to this story.

Where to call in a report

Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds urged out-of-town visitors to Park City to contact relatives in their hometowns to inform them they were not part of Friday's slide. To report someone who might be missing in the avalanche, or if you witnessed the slide, call the Summit County Emergency Operations Center at 800-828-8477.