BYU student caught in avalanche dies; back-country danger remains extreme

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 13 2015 10:38 p.m. MDT

As a Brigham Young University student buried in an avalanche continued to fight for her life on Sunday, avalanche experts warned conditions remained extremely dangerous for northern Utah. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News Archives) As a Brigham Young University student buried in an avalanche continued to fight for her life on Sunday, avalanche experts warned conditions remained extremely dangerous for northern Utah. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News Archives)

AMERICAN FORK — A Brigham Young University student buried in an avalanche died Sunday afternoon.

Ashleigh Cox, a 21-year-old Brigham Young University student from Colorado Springs, Colo., was on life-support at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, until shortly after 4 p.m., Sunday. She died shortly after.

Cox was snowshoeing with friends in a steep gully near the Tibble Fork Reservoir in American Fork Canyon Saturday afternoon when she was caught in the avalanche. Sgt. Spencer Cannon with the Utah County Sheriff's Office said he did not know Sunday what triggered the slide. The avalanche only fell 50 feet, but it carried Cox into the creek, and buried her face first in the water, according to the Utah Avalanche Center.

"It was not a large avalanche but the snow was so wet and heavy that it made the conditions just right for a slide like that," Cannon said.

Other snowshoers and BYU students who were tubing nearby attempted to help Cox. No one in the group had an avalanche beacon, Cannon said. Because they did not know Cox's exact location, those who first tried to dig her out ended up piling snow on where she was eventually found.

Cox was trapped under the snow for about 40 minutes before being pulled out.

She had no pulse and was not breathing when she was found, but Cannon said paramedics and the hospital staff were miraculously able to get her back to a point where vital signs were detected. In spite of this, she had no other signs of life and was taken off life support Sunday afternoon.

This incident is one of "many times when avalanches have occurred and people have been trapped in them, that had they heeded the warnings for the area where they were recreating, could have avoided the accident," Cannon said.

The only way to have avoided the accident entirely would have been for the group to not go snowshoeing at all Cannon said. With that in mind, there are things people can do to reduce their risk, he added. These include checking the avalanche forecast at utahavalanchecenter.org, recreating in flat areas and bringing avalanche beacons.

When risks are especially high, like on Saturday, Cannon suggests going to another location or finding a new activity.

Avalanche experts warned conditions remained extremely dangerous for northern Utah.

The slide in American Fork was one of 14 recorded statewide by the Utah Avalanche Center on Saturday alone. A total of 17 avalanches had been recorded since Friday. People were caught in three of those slides, though the only significant injury was the one to Cox.

Forecasters were strongly urging recreationists to be careful for the next couple of days, noting that the avalanche danger in most areas ranked from "high" to "extreme."

"It's dangerous out there and this is the real deal. Avalanches are breaking deep and wide, taking out the entire seasons snowpack. If you're getting on the snow today, please take a moment and think about the consequences of triggering an avalanche and the possibility of not coming home to your family," Craig Gordon, with the Avalanche Forecast Center, wrote for in his advisory for the Uinta Mountains region.

Avalanche forecaster Drew Hardesty echoed those thoughts in his advisory for the mountains of Salt Lake County.

"These are dangerous times," he said. "All aspects and elevations continue to be dangerous. Backcountry travel is not recommended. With naturals again likely, you will be in danger even in the flats beneath steep avalanche paths...and it may be possible to pull the avalanche down on top of you.

Sundance Ski Resort closed their lifts on Sunday. In a series of tweets, the resort reported: "Sundance ski runs are closed for the day due to heavy rain fall and avalanche danger. SR-92 is open as is Sundance village restaurants. Due to adverse conditions the ski mountain will remain closed today (Sunday)."

The Utah Department of Transportation also closed Powder Mountain Highway on Sunday, "due to continuation of avalanche cleanup," according to a tweet from UDOT.

Snowbasin closed it ski lifts early on Saturday due to strong winds.

Hardesty said with another storm due to hit the state Wednesday, the avalanche danger will remain high for the next week. He warned that people should stay out of the backcountry.

The problem is the recent wet, heavy snow accompanied with strong winds.

"It's too much, too fast," he said. "It's just too much for it to stay on the steep mountain side. Furthermore, it's overloading the very weak, pre-existing snow that's been sitting on the ground for the past several months."

Also, shortly after 1 p.m. on Sunday, the North Summit Fire Department sent out a tweet requesting volunteers for sandbagging.

"150 S CLOSED at Main St. and 50 W in #coalville due to #flooding Anyone who can help full sand bags cone down," the department wrote.

At least 5 inches of rain caused flooding between Wanship and Coalville, a seven- to eight-mile stretch, according to Mark Giauque, volunteer firefighter in Summit County and KSL NewsRadio executive producer and reporter.

"The runoff really had nowhere to go, so in low-lying places the water rushed into homes," Giauque said.

About six to seven homes were damaged by the water, one significantly, Giauque said. At least two homes were saved by the efforts of those who filled and placed sandbags. The rain had let up as of Sunday, and officials hope they've seen the last of it.

"There's still concern that if more heavy rain came, this wouldn't be over yet," Giauque said.

The flooding in Coalville was controlled and streets were reopened just before 6 p.m., Sunday, according to a tweet from North Summit Fire.

Additional information will be added when available.

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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