The last two bodies of skiers buried since Wednesday afternoon when an avalanche roared down the Gold Basin area in the La Sal Mountains, about 25 miles southeast of Moab, were found Saturday.
Jerry Shaw, district ranger, Manti-La Sal National Forest, said the bodies of Maribel Loveridge, 31, and Mark Yates, 37, both of Moab, had been recovered by 4 p.m. Saturday. One body was found in the morning, the other in the afternoon.With the aid of avalanche rescue dogs, searchers on Friday found the bodies of William V. Turk, 38, and Jeremy Hopkins, 26, also of Moab.
Shaw said the search effort, which also included a helicopter, was directed by the Grand and Juan County sheriff's departments, with assistance from Forest Service personnel. About 20 to 25 people were involved, Shaw said.
The four victims and two other people, Craig Bigler, 54, and Steve Mileski, 34, also experienced back-country skiers, were on a snow-testing ski tour about 3 p.m. Wednesday when a slope gave way, burying all six.
Bigler and Mileski, also of Moab, were able to dig themselves out and worked frantically to rescue and revive their four companions. They spent almost two hours in the rescue attempt but were unable to revive the other four.
Bigler and Mileski then skied several miles before reaching their vehicle. They drove into Moab at about 8 p.m. Wednesday where the sheriff's office was notified. The following morning an all-out search effort began, but it was hampered by large amounts of new snow, blizzard conditions, severe avalanche danger, low clouds and other problems.
Because of the extreme avalanche hazard, crews dropped explosives onto the mountain slopes. The safety measure brought down new avalanches, reburying the bodies of the victims.
"Everyone in the search effort did a very professional, super job. We're glad it's completed," Shaw said, adding that he had talked to the families of some of the victims.
"They are doing well and are glad to know the bodies have been found," Shaw said, expressing appreciation to everyone who assisted in the effort.
Shaw said the tragedy occurred when Yates, who was director of the local Avalanche Awareness Center, was gathering information to put in an avalanche forecast.
Tom Kimbrough of the Utah Avalanche Control Center, located at the Salt Lake office of the National Weather Service, said Saturday an avalanche warning has been issued for all of Utah.
A winter storm warning was issued for the Utah mountains through Sunday. Accumulations of 8 to 12 inches, with higher amounts in some areas, are expected by Sunday night.
The snow level was expected to lower to the 4,000-foot elevation by Sunday morning.
In the valleys, accumulations are expected to range from 2 to 4 inches by Sunday night, said meteorologist Kevin Baker.
Monday's forecast for the Salt Lake, Ogden and Provo areas calls for partly cloudy weather with scattered snow showers. The chance of measurable precipitation will be 80 percent Sunday, 70 percent Sunday night and 30 percent Monday.