Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2008-12-29
Submitted By: UAC; Hardesty
Place: Yamaha Hill; Moffat Basin Area
State: UT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught, buried, and killed

***INITIAL REPORT FROM UAC***

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Uinta National Forest avalanche kills 15-year-old boy

By Melinda Rogers

Salt Lake Tribune

Posted:12/29/2008 10:49:00 PM MST

A 15-year-old snowmobiler was killed in an avalanche in the backcountry of the Uinta National Forest in Summit County on Monday.

The avalanche occurred shortly before 4:30 p.m. in the Windy Ridge/Moffit Basin area of the county, said Summit County Sheriff's Office Capt. Dean Carr. The 15-year-old boy, who was not identified, was caught in the slide, which took place about 8 miles west of the Bear River Service on State Road 150.

Search-and-rescue workers found the teenager at 5:54 p.m., Carr said. He was confirmed dead at the scene.

The avalanche was reported to be 300 to 400 feet in length, with a 4- to 6-foot crown, Carr said.

An investigation into what triggered the avalanche is under way, he said.

The slide took place in an area deemed treacherous by forecasters at the Utah Avalanche Center, which put a special avalanche advisory in effect for the western Uintas on Sunday.

"A high avalanche danger exists on all steep mid- and upper-elevation slopes. Human triggered avalanches are certain, natural avalanches are possible. Backcountry travel is not recommended," forecaster Craig Gordon wrote.

Gordon said in an interview on Monday evening that the center has been aggressively trying to spread the word about this season's unusual avalanche patterns and urging people in the Uintas to stay away from slopes that are 30 degrees steep.

A rain crust that developed in snow packs over Thanksgiving is contributing to layering that is atypical for the Uintas, Gordon said.

"The bottom line is that we have a very unusual snow pack that we're dealing with right now. Avalanches are occurring in terrain that people have never seen avalanches occurred in," Gordon said. "I think it's a time when recreation users really need to think about their terrain choices and need to think about the consequences of their terrain decisions."

Utah Avalanche Center forecaster Bruce Tremper said "weak sugary snow" in the Uintas compounded by new, heavy snow is a recipe for dangerous avalanches.

He encouraged people who plan to travel in the backcountry to carry basic rescue gear, like beacons, shovels and probes. He also recommended checking the avalanche report at utahavalanchecenter.org or 888-999-4019 before heading outdoors.

The 15-year-old's death on Monday marks the fourth avalanche death this month, following incidents at Snowbird and Logan Peak.

Monday's avalanche took place in the same region as a fatal 2007 Christmas Day avalanche.

Last year 53-year-old David Balls, of Oakley, was snowmobiling with his four sons when a 400-foot-wide avalanche swept over him and killed him near the Thousand Peaks recreation area in Summit County.

mrogers@sltrib.com

Recent avalanche deaths

Heather Gross, 27, of Salt Lake City, died on Dec. 14 when she was buried by an avalanche at Snowbird's Mount Baldy.

Erik Jorgensen, 22, of Paradise, and Jesse Ryan Johnson, 23, of Hyrum, were killed in an avalanche as they were riding snowmobiles at Logan Peak on Dec. 24.