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Experts: Avalanche that killed forecaster 'could have happened to any of us'

Published: Monday, April 15 2013 12:52 a.m. MDT

Craig Patterson, a UDOT avalanche forecaster, was killed while working in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Thursday, April 11, 2013. A medical helicopter spotted Patterson's body after his family reported him overdue from work.

UDOT

SALT LAKE CITY — The snowslide that claimed the life of Utah Department of Transportation avalanche forecaster Craig Patterson "could have happened to any of us," experts said.

The Utah Avalanche Center over the weekend released its report on the slide that killed Patterson, 34, who was working in the area Thursday afternoon. According to the report, the slide was triggered on Patterson's ascent up Kessler Peak, where the slopes can be a threat to the highway below.

"As he neared the top of the ridge where he was presumably planning to descend back down the ridge, his ascension track led around a sharp corner from the northeast-facing ridge onto a steep, east-facing slope where he presumably triggered the avalanche that killed him," Utah Avalanche Center forecaster Bruce Tremper wrote.  "The distance of only a foot or two separated safe snow from dangerous snow."

It was unclear whether Patterson traversed accidentally onto the more dangerous eastern slope or whether he intended to examine the snow in the area. The slide broke 40 feet above Patterson and was between 6 inches and 8 inches deep and about 45 feet wide, according to the report.

It carried Patterson 1,380 feet down a 45-degree slope through some trees and over at least two 10-foot cliffs. Patterson's body was found on the surface of the snow near the foot of the debris with "obvious trauma" to his head and hip.

Eight forecasters — five from UDOT and three from the Utah Avalanche Center — investigated the avalanche Friday and reported that they did not notice any unstable snow on the route Patterson took up the mountain. They believe the wind blew some new snow on top of a preexisting crust, which made for a "sensitive slab" on the east slope.

"After seeing the accident site and the avalanche conditions, we all agreed that it was the kind of accident that could have happened to any of us," Tremper wrote. "It was a sad day for all of us to lose a friend, a co-worker and such a wonderful person."

Patterson had been forecasting for UDOT for seven years. He left behind a wife and daughter.

A memorial service will be held in his honor at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Albion Grill at Alta. A memorial fund has been set up under his name at Key Bank.

E-mail: emorgan@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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