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Crews rescue ski patroller, snowmobilers in separate winter scares

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 19 2016 9:10 p.m. MST

Members of Davis County Search and Rescue walk with unidentified stranded snowmobilers in Bountiful on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, after they were flown out of Morgan County by Life Flight.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

POWDER MOUNTAIN WINTER RESORT — A ski patroller was buried in an avalanche Tuesday and remained under the snow for as long as 10 minutes before being rescued, police said.

The 31-year-old man was performing avalanche reduction just northeast of Powder Mountain's James Peak around 9:15 a.m. when a loose slab of snow triggered an avalanche that dragged him about 1,800 feet down the mountainside, said Weber County Sheriff's Lt. Brandon Toll, who oversees the agency's search and rescue team.

A nearby ski patroller came to the man's aid and located him using an avalanche beacon, Toll said. Other ski patrollers also came to the man's rescue. He was transported by helicopter to receive medical treatment. He is expected to survive.

Also Tuesday morning, two snowmobilers were rescued in the foothills east of Bountiful after being stranded overnight, police said.

The men were in good condition when search and rescue crews retrieved them, Davis County Sheriff's Sgt. DeAnn Servey said.

"Luckily, the men who were stranded … had cellphones, and they were able to communicate with us back and forth," Servey said. "They also had supplies, and they were able to build a fire, which is huge in these conditions."

At Powder Mountain, after an estimated 6-10 minutes fully buried under 3 feet of snow, the unconscious man was recovered by ski patrollers.

"He was very fortunate. He’s got some bumps and bruises," Toll said, "(and) as far as we know, no broken bones or internal injuries. He really came out of this in a great way."

The lieutenant praised the response of the man's fellow ski patrollers.

"They reacted really fast, and it was just textbook for a situation like that," he said.

The ski patroller had come to a rest facedown in the tightly packed snow and couldn't move any part of his body, according to Toll.

"He was trying to control his breathing to slow it down," he said.

The avalanche occurred in an area inside the ski resort that was closed Monday because of concerns about the weather. It reopened Tuesday.

"It is dangerous conditions right now. The avalanche conditions are high," Toll said.

He advised others who ski in areas with avalanche risk to be properly equipped in case of a disaster.

"We always want people to be aware and alert, and have the appropriate gear. Have a beacon, shovel (and) probe. Know how to use that equipment," Toll said. "Always go with people so they can try to help rescue you quickly. That’s really what’s going to … save your life."

In Bountiful, two men were snowmobiling near the "B" on the mountainside east of the city when whiteout conditions overtook the area around 5 p.m. Monday, and they called police for help, Servey said.

About a dozen rescuers responded to the mountainside but were unable to get to the men overnight. A Life Flight helicopter was called out Tuesday morning but couldn't land next to the men due to persistent fog, as well as snow in the area that was "at least chest high," Servey said.

One of the rescuers passed out on the mountain during the rescue and required treatment.

"He just pushed himself a little bit too hard," Servey said. "(Other rescuers) were able to shelter in place get a fire going make sure that he was OK."

Conditions in the foothills were hazardous, even for the trained rescuers, she said.

"This has been an interesting week in our weather. It's been so cold and then it rains, making that layer of ice on the top. So that’s in our rescuer’s mind(s), what kind of elements could cause even more danger," Servey said. "This Wasatch Front is some of the meanest country in Utah. The canyons are steep, the hills are steep, the snow and the avalanche danger (are) real."

Eventually, rescuers hiked to the men on snowshoe. The snowmobilers were given snowshoes of their own and were able to hike to a lower elevation, where the medical helicopter was waiting to fly them out of the area, according to Servey.

"They’ve had a long night in the mountain," the sergeant said.

The men are experienced snowmobilers and were well prepared for an emergency situation, according to Servey.

"They were able to know how to make a fire in these type of conditions (where) there’s a lot of snow," she said. "A lot of times you have to break off the branches of a dead pine tree or something and hopefully have the supplies to start a fire up there."

The man also brought enough gear to protect them throughout the ordeal, Servey said.

"They were wearing the right amount of clothing to keep them semi-warm through the night," she said. "And the extra food that they had, that is so imperative."

Snowfall mixed with rain is expected to factor in to northern Utah weather overnight Tuesday and through Wednesday morning. Valleys along the Wasatch Front are expected to receive 1 to 2 inches of snow, while foothills get about 2 to 4 inches, according to KSL-TV meteorologist Kevin Eubank. Along northern Utah's mountain ranges, about 5 to 10 inches of snow are expected.

Contributing: Andrew Adams

Email: blockhart@deseretnews.com

Twitter: benlockhartnews

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