NewsLocal News


2020-21 winter season a deadly one for Utah with six killed so far

Posted at 11:05 PM, Feb 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-07 01:59:14-05

This has been a particularly deadly avalanche season in Utah, with five of the six deaths taking place in the last week alone.

The Utah Avalanche Center explained why the backcountry has been particularly dangerous this year.

On Saturday, four people died in a slide up Millcreek Canyon — the latest sign of the danger sitting in the backcountry.

"It's super tragic. I mean, this breaks my heart," said Craig Gordon, an avalanche forecaster with the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center.

If things continue at this rate, Gordon indicated, this could be shaping up to be one of the deadliest avalanche seasons in recent history.

"We are certainly on par to eclipse any other avalanche fatality month that we've ever seen here in Utah," he said.

Six people have died in avalanches in Utah so far this winter. That's compared to two deaths last winter.

One of the deadliest seasons on record, according to Utah Avalanche Center numbers, came during the 2004-2005 season when eight people died.

Drew Hardesty, an avalanche forecaster with the Utah Avalanche Center, explained how they're seeing the same pattern with the slides.

"Many of these avalanches that we've seen that are probably very similar to [the one Saturday], are anywhere from two to five feet deep, 200 feet wide to 500 feet wide," he said.

Last weekend, a skier in the Square Top area outside the Park City Mountains Resort Canyons Village boundaries became buried and died after triggering a slide with another person.

In early January, another avalanche just outside the Park City Mountain Resort boundaries in the Dutch Draw area trapped and killed a snowboarder.

"It's really one of the weakest and most dangerous snowpacks we've seen in quite some time," Hardesty said.

Hardesty and Gordon each talked about how the dry winter has left the mountains without the usual, deep and robust snowpack. Every storm that comes in, they said, is falling on top of a base stacked like a house of cards.

"So [the avalanches] are taking out the entire season snowpack," Gordon said. "They are snapping trees. I mean, these are devastating events."

According to Gordon, the danger will continue.

"This situation with our snowpack isn't going to heal any time soon," he said.

That's why Gordon recommended keeping to gentle terrain, and not going on or under steep slopes. Hardesty recommended anyone who doesn't consider themselves experienced with the proper gear stay out of the backcountry altogether.

Click here for the latest avalanche conditions and forecasts from the Utah Avalanche Center.