Tom Smart, Deseret News
LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON — A skier that accidentally triggered a backcountry avalanche was slightly injured Saturday.
The incident marked the eighth slide recorded by the Utah Avalanche Center since Friday that was triggered by a skier, snowboarder or snowmobiler. Although no serious injuries were reported in any incident, avalanche center director Bruce Tremper said there had been a lot of close calls — including one fully buried person and at least one partially buried skier.
These numerous incidents on Friday prompted the Avalanche Center to raise the threat level for backcountry areas above 8,500-feet to "high" on Saturday.
Three of those recent incidents were along the Park City ridgeline and four were out-of-bounds areas around Brighton and Alta Ski Resorts.
About 10 a.m. Saturday in the Grizzly Gulch area, a skier triggered a 100-foot wide by 60-foot long slide, carrying the man a short distance. One of the three other skiers the victim was with said the man "tweaked his knee," but was otherwise alright, according to the Utah Avalanche Center.
Tremper said there have been at least three other close calls in the Grizzy Gulch area over the past two weeks. One of those incidents happened Friday when a skier triggered another slide. That skier was not injured.
The largest avalanche over the past two days was in Hidden Canyon, an out-of-bounds area off Alta Ski Resort, on Friday when a slide fully buried a skier, according to the avalanche center.
"(A) 20-year-old male caught and carried for 700 feet. Lost all gear but suffered only bumps and bruises. Reportedly fully buried but able to wriggle head out of snow down in the toe of the debris pile. Snow safety noted that the debris pile was up to 10 feet deep in places," according to the avalanche center.
Also Friday afternoon, in the Lake Creek area of Summit County, a snowmobiler was reportedly partially buried in a slide, but able to survive thanks in part to airbags. More details on that incident were still being collected Saturday.
Tremper said airbags have been extremely popular in Europe and have caught on with snowmobilers in the U.S., and more recently have started to catch on with skiers.
Even though the latest round of snowfall was over, Tremper said there was still a high potential for slides in the mountains of northern Utah. Since Thursday, there's been a heavy batch of snow that has fallen on top of a weaker layer, he said.
That weak layer will continue to produce avalanches for several days, he said. Many of the slides the avalanche center is seeing are very deep and taking out entire snowpacks when they're triggered, Tremper said.
He advised backcountry enthusiasts to avoid slopes over 30 degrees, above 8,500 feet and on north to east facing slopes for a while.
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