OGDEN — A Farmington man remained hospitalized Sunday for treatment of two fractured legs, a broken arm and hypothermia after being buried in an avalanche while snowmobiling Saturday near the Utah-Idaho border.
Matthew Morgan, 28, was on the mend after operations on at least one of his legs and his arm Sunday, according to Peter Morgan, an uncle. Matthew Morgan should be in the hospital for a few more days, he said.
The Brigham Young University-Idaho graduate was among four people riding snowmobiles about 13 miles north of Beaver Creek, according to Cache County Sheriff's Lt. Doyle Peck.
"They came across a ridge. He (Morgan) was first to drop over that ridge, which triggered a significantly large avalanche" about 1 p.m. Saturday, Peck said.
Morgan triggered the slide by riding over the slope, instead of under, according to Utah Avalanche Center forecaster Toby Weed.
"He's lucky to be alive," Weed said.
The hard slab avalanche in Saint Charles Canyon was about 500 feet wide and 800 feet in length.
The slide buried Morgan in about 2 feet of snow. Other riders in his group dug him out of the avalanche, aided by a beacon he was wearing. Morgan was unconscious once he was pulled from the snow but soon regained consciousness, Peck said. One of the riders had cellphone service and called for help.
Initially, the riders were assisted by two members of the Cache County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Team, who happened to be riding snowmobiles in the same area on their own time.
Search and rescue teams from Cache County, Bear Lake and Franklin County, Idaho, later responded, conducting "a difficult and time-consuming rescue in the worst possible weather conditions. Due to the remoteness of the avalanche, the injured party had to be rope-hauled up the slope," according to Weed.
Rescuers employed a rope and pulley system to lift Morgan up the slope some 1,200 feet with dozens of rescuers hauling from above, a Utah Avalanche Center report said.
Morgan and his rescuers arrived at Beaver Creek trailhead about 9 p.m. Saturday, where he was loaded into an ambulance and transported to Logan Regional Hospital, Peck said. He was later transferred to McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden for treatment of two fractured femurs and a broken arm.
Sheriff's officials cautioned about the extreme risk of avalanches in the mountains and said proper precautions need to be taken by anyone going into the hills and wilderness area.
"Sometimes people get excited, they see fresh snow up there and want to go up and enjoy it. Sometimes they just forget the danger than can exist with an avalanche," Peck said.
The area continues to be "high risk," he added.
"The weather conditions we have right now, it’s a very poor base of snow. When heavy snow falls on top of it, it's just ripe for avalanche conditions, which is what happened (Saturday)."
Weed expects that avalanche risk could remain in the area for up to a week, and said it is very likely that a person could trigger a deadly avalanche.
"It's like a house of cards with a thick slab layer developing on top of weak, unstable snow," he said.
Those who are thinking of venturing into the snow should check avalanche conditions online and avoid steep slopes created by the wind.