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Four skiers killed in Millcreek Canyon avalanche

Posted at 12:56 PM, Feb 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-07 16:34:39-05

UPDATE (Sunday, Feb. 7):
The Unified Police Department has confirmed that the four deceased skiers are:

  • 29-year-old Sarah Moughamian of Sandy
  • 26-year old Louis Holian of Salt Lake City
  • 26-year-old Stephanie Hopkins of Salt Lake City
  • 23-year-old Thomas Louis Steinbrecher of Salt Lake City

Previous story (Saturday, Feb. 6):

MILLCREEK, Utah — Four skiers are dead after an avalanche in Millcreek Canyon.

Unified Police said they received a "faint" distress call around 11:40 a.m. Saturday. Despite poor cell phone reception in the area, they were able to determine that the slide happened in the Wilson Glade area of Wilson Fork. It is also near Alexander Basin and Gobblers Knob.

Site of a fatal avalanche in Wilson Glade (Millcreek Canyon) Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021.

UPD later confirmed that four of the skiers were dead and four others were alive. All eight had avalanche beacons.

The medical status of the survivors was not immediately available, but officials say they were able to dig themselves out and one was treated for hypothermia. The surviving skiers were also able to locate and dig out the other four, but they had already died.

Search and rescue teams from several agencies are working to recover the bodies in a way that will not further endanger crews from getting caught in another slide.

The victims' names have not yet been released.

READ: Millcreek avalanche a reminder of Utah's dangerous history

“We are heartbroken over the tragic news of four fatalities as the result of an avalanche in the Millcreek Canyon area this afternoon," Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson wrote in a statement. "We deeply mourn the loss of life due to this devastating incident.”

The incident is the first deadly avalanche in Salt Lake County this winter season. There were two others last month in the Park City backcountry: A skier in the Square Top area and a snowboarder in Dutch Draw, respectively.

Gov. Spencer Cox also issued a statement, writing on Twitter:

  • "This is a terrible tragedy and our prayers go out to the victims and families involved. We are grateful to the first responders and others who engaged in this rescue and recovery effort. With avalanche danger high right now, please exercise extreme caution."

The Utah Avalanche Center (UAC) confirmed that Saturday's avalanche was triggered accidentally by the skiers. It was 250 feet wide and 2 1/2 feet deep, according to their preliminary report.

UAC also reports that another avalanche was remotely triggered by a skier in the Anderson Basin just one day prior. Nobody was caught in it. A smaller slide even closer to the site of Saturday's tragic event was triggered in late December, also in Wilson Glade, just a short distance downslope. The skier who triggered it was able to ski out.

The UAC estimates there were 30-40 avalanches between Friday night and Saturday. There was one close call at the Mary Ellen Drainage in American Fork Canyon, where a snowmobiler was almost buried. There was another close call at Moffit Peak in the Uintas.

The agency's avalanche forecasters had warned Utahns about the increased risk in the backcountry going into this weekend.

UPD says Millcreek Canyon is closed to recreational use until further notice due to the dangerous avalanche conditions. Restaurants and businesses in the canyon will still be open.