Backcountry skier airlifted after triggering avalanche in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Utah Avalanche Center warns of avalanche danger after backcountry skier injured

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A backcountry skier was airlifted to the hospital after triggering an avalanche on Sunday, Feb. 11. The Utah Avalanche Center (UAC) says conditions are ripe for more.

The avalanche happened in the Lisa Falls area of Little Cottonwood Canyon. It was unintentionally triggered by a skier and occurred at an elevation of 11,200 feet on a southeast aspect known for its challenging terrain. Witnesses reported that the avalanche was a soft slab type.

The avalanche spanned 100 feet in width and ran a vertical distance of 1,500 feet. Despite the small initial slab, the avalanche gathered a significant amount of snow, creating a debris field described as D2.5 in severity, extending 300 meters in length, 100 meters in width, and up to 10 feet deep in certain areas.

The solo skier, following a track set by others, ventured into the avalanche path without communicating with the group ahead. The slab released as the skier ascended a couloir, burying them under the snow. Thanks to the quick response of the observing party and the deployment of the skier’s airbag, a rescue operation was swiftly initiated. Intermountain Lifeflight and Utah DPS conducted a hoist rescue, saving the skier’s life amidst the unstable conditions and subsequent natural avalanches.

The rescued skier, reflecting on the ordeal, acknowledged the poor decision-making that led to the incident. Despite years of backcountry experience, the skier admitted to being lured by the prospect of fresh snow and disregarding the clear signs of avalanche danger. This event served as a stark reminder of the risks associated with solo tours in severe terrain and the importance of patience and communication with others in the backcountry.

Nikki Champion, an avalanche forecaster with the Utah Avalanche Center, said over the last 10 days, 4-6 feet of snow has accumulated in the Upper Cottonwoods. “We have this persistent weak layer to this weak layer faceted ground, the ground from early season snow,” she told KSLTV. “If you add a lot of weight or change or load, it tends to stress it out and overload it.”

Over the weekend, more than 30 avalanches were reported in the Salt Lake City area alone.

Sunny skies are forecast for the next few days, but the UAC urges skiers to avoid avalanche terrain.

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