An experienced skier missing since Sunday was found dead in a “sidecountry” area near the Canyons Ski Resort in Park City, Utah.
According to the Deseret News, Stephen Jones, 50, was located in the area after his cell phone pinged for authorities, leading them to the slope where he perished outside the ski resort boundary. He was in an area known us “Shale Shot,” and found using an avalanche beacon beneath three feet of snow (he was reportedly wearing a beacon).
It’s been one of the heaviest winters in recent memory. “In January alone we’ve recorded 13 fatalities in the western U.S.,” Evelyn Lees, a backcountry avalanche forecaster for the Forest Service’s Utah Avalanche Center told The Inertia. “We’ve got an unusually complex snowpack with weak layers. Plus this is the first good season in five years and it’s catching people by surprise. Not only are we having fatalities but you look at (incident reports from) any avalanche center in the U.S. and there are a ton of close calls.”
Indeed, according to some reports, it’s been the deadliest January since 2008. But avalanches have not been relegated to the backcountry. In December a patrolman at Snowbasin was caught in an inbounds slide and a snowboarder nearly perished in an inbounds slide at California’s Sugar Bowl (the area was closed to skiers and riders though).
Motorized deaths have been high as well. A group of five snowmobilers were killed in British Columbia and a 20-year-old man died in Idaho snowmobiling near Brundge Mountain outside McCall this weekend. The rash of deaths have avalanche experts calling for prudence.
“People should check local avalanche forecasts to see what sort of general data there is to make a better assessment of their local snowpacks,” says Lees. “In Utah, the conditions have been fabulous. Give the steep slopes some time. There’s been so many storms there’s completely untracked lines in the backcountry in areas with low angled slopes that are safer and really fun.”
A few reminders, in case you’re out this weekend.