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Explosives deployed from the sky help avalanche rescuers on the ground

Posted at 9:15 PM, Feb 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-01 23:55:55-05

SUMMIT COUNTY, Utah — As search and rescue crews worked on an avalanche recovery mission Sunday in Summit County, experts worked to ensure the safety of rescuers working on the ground in unforgiving backcountry territory.

Those with the Utah Avalanche Center, Summit County Sheriff’s Office and Park City Mountain Resort Ski Patrol worked with Utah Department of Public Safety to conduct avalanche mitigation in order for rescuers to reach the skier who was buried the day before.

“We arrive and we serve the search and rescue or the sheriff’s office in that area, so if they say we’re going to mitigate, then we just follow their lead,” said Sgt. Wyatt Weber, a tactical flight officer with the Utah Department of Public Safety Aero Bureau. “Obviously, the snow safety experts that know these avalanches from front to back, whatever they suggest we just try to help them and assist them and do it as safely as possible with the tool.”

Utah DPS used explosive charges from Park City Ski Patrol to trigger more avalanches from the unstable snow above and around the Square Top area. Before Summit County Search and Rescue crews recovered the victim from the avalanche, the avalanche mitigation allowed rescuers to access the area with minimized risk of further avalanches.

“You talk to the Park City Ski Patrol and they’ll tell you [Square Top is] one of their scariest areas up there for avalanche potential, and it always gives them sleepless nights,” said Utah DPS Aero Bureau pilot Bret Hutchings.

Hutchings piloted the helicopter on Sunday as members of the team deployed the explosives.

“That requires the pilot, and then we have a crew of three that are comprised out of the various ski resort areas. You have a controller and a bomber and a prepper," he said.

There have been two deadly avalanches in Utah this winter, and both have taken place just outside of Park City Mountain Resort boundaries. Both avalanche victims accessed the backcountry from the resort boundary area.

“Park City Mountain places the highest value on the safety of our guests and employees. Within the ski area boundaries, Ski Patrol performs avalanche mitigation work and provides emergency response. Park City Mountain does not prohibit public access to U.S. Forest Service lands outside the ski area boundary. Guests that access the backcountry from Park City Mountain must do so from designated backcountry gates that provide warnings and information about the inherent risks of backcountry travel. Park City Mountain does not manage the lands or the inherent hazards that exist outside its ski area boundary. Guests who access backcountry terrain do so at their own risk and are responsible for their safety. Guests leaving the Resort boundaries should be experienced and knowledgeable about backcountry travel, and be prepared with the appropriate gear and safety equipment.” – Jessica Miller, Park City Mountain Resort

Be sure to check conditions with the Utah Avalanche Center before venturing into the backcountry.