Photos of avalanche that killed 2 skiers released as bodies are recovered

Draper • It happened in an instant. As three backcountry skiers approached the top of Big Willow Apron near Lone Peak, a loose slab of snow broke away from the slope. It rolled over the lone survivor of Thursday’s avalanche and then continued to barrel 500 feet downhill.

The survivor dug himself out. He then immediately turned his beacon into receive mode and set out to find his two friends.

When he found them, they were already dead.

Those were among the details released Friday by the Utah Avalanche Center and Salt Lake County Sheriff Search and Rescue volunteers in reports and at a media conference.

Earlier that morning, Search and Rescue volunteers recovered the bodies of the two backcountry skiers who died in the slide. The threat of more avalanches and unpredictable weather kept rescuers from recovering the bodies of the two men, ages 23 and 32, on Thursday.

The avalanche took place in a rugged, hard-to-reach area called Big Willow at an elevation of 10,600 feet. All three were equipped with avalanche beacons, probes and shovels as well as helmets, according to John Patterson, the commander of the sheriff’s Search and Rescue team.

The survivor, who is a local man according to Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera, was rescued by Life Flight medics around 11 a.m. Thursday, Patterson said. He was able to walk from the helicopter to an ambulance. A spokesperson for the Unified Police Department said he was released from the hospital Thursday evening.

Residual avalanche danger and thick cloud cover kept Search and Rescue crews from accessing the area Thursday. When it became clear the other two had died in the slide, and with a storm moving in, the sheriff’s office made the call to postpone recovery efforts until Friday morning. A Department of Public Services helicopter was able to drop explosives in the area a couple of times Thursday to help clear away the remaining avalanche danger.

“At that point, it was about four o’clock, and this is a six-hour operation,” Patterson said of the recovery effort. “We decided to not put anybody else in danger.”

(Utah Avalanche Center) The report lists the slide as being 250 feet wide and 2 feet deep.

The three men had left from Hidden Valley Park in Draper early Thursday morning for the difficult expedition, authorities said. According to a report released Friday by the Utah Avalanche Center, they had just switched from uphill skiing to boot packing — a term for hiking in their ski boots — and were near the top of Big Willow Cirque when a soft slab of snow broke off from above them. The survivor was in the lead, per the report, and was carried downhill on the looker’s right side of a sharp ridge. The other two were carried down the left side and were completely buried.

The UAC reports the avalanche was 250 feet wide and 500 feet long with a depth of 2 feet. It noted that wind-drifted snow may have played a role in the avalanche.

Authorities have not released the names of the two men. Rivera said Thursday that one is believed to be from the Salt Lake Valley and the other from out of state.

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