Avalanche near Snowbird spurs search for skiers; no guests, employees caught in debris

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Snowfall on Wasatch Mountains. Record snowfall has caused avalanches at ski resorts. (Preston Crawley)

An avalanche occurred Thursday afternoon near Snowbird ski resort, prompting interlodge and rescue efforts.

The resort confirmed via Twitter that “no guests or employees were caught in the debris” and that the avalanche was triggered outside of Snowbird’s boundaries.

(@Snowbird via Twitter)

Ski patrol began search and rescue efforts immediately after the avalanche occurred. The statement said the time of the avalanche was approximately 12:30 p.m. and the Chickadee lift and trail were open at the time of the avalanche. Efforts included Avalanche Rescue Dogs, Recco and probes.

Snowbird published a statement that said the avalanche was naturally occurring on the south facing, lower section of Mt. Superior and ran across SR-210 and onto the western edge of Snowbird’s Chickadee trail. SR-210 is now closed and the resort is sheltering everyone inside the lodge.

Mark Staples from the Utah Avalanche Center said wet avalanches are likely to occur as the heat from warm air begins to melt the record snow pack Utah ski resorts have seen this year.

He used the analogy of a piece of metal that has a ratio of stress and strength.

“When the stress of the conditions exceeds the strength of the snowpack, that’s when you get avalanches,” Staples said.

Staples said the Utah Avalanche Center tracks data in conditions in the snowpack in back country throughout Utah to inform individuals on the conditions and likelihood of avalanches in those areas.

A video posted by Twitter user @IceAgePlease shows the snow that slid down the mountainside where Ski patrol is searching.

The Utah Hazard Mitigation website says “avalanches are one of the deadliest natural disasters in Utah accounting for 52% of severe weather related deaths and claiming 117 lives in the state between 1958 and 2017.”

On Tuesday, Utah Avalanche Center released a summary about a fatal avalanche and said, “We aim to learn from accidents like this and offer comments to help others avoid future accidents.”

Snowbird will continue to release updates about the search, lift on interlodge and the road and resort opening.

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