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2 skiers killed after being caught in Utah avalanche, sheriff says

A Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter carries rescuers from Hidden Valley Park on Thursday in Sandy, Utah.
Rick Bowmer
A Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter carries rescuers from Hidden Valley Park on Thursday in Sandy, Utah.

SANDY, Utah — Two backcountry skiers were killed and one was rescued after they were swept up and buried in an avalanche Thursday in the mountains outside of Salt Lake City that occurred after several days of spring snowstorms, authorities said.

A rescue team went to the area mid-morning after the avalanche was reported near Lone Peak in the Wasatch Range southeast of Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera said. One of the skiers, who was able to dig himself out of the snow, was rescued and taken to a hospital, Rivera said. She said she believed he was the one who called for help. Officers were speaking with him at the hospital to get more information about what happened, the sheriff said.

Rescuers in a helicopter flew over the area Thursday afternoon and confirmed the other two skiers were deceased, Rivera said. They are two men, ages 23 and 32. Their names have not been released, but their families have been notified, the sheriff said.

Conditions were not safe enough to allow for a recovery on Thursday, and crews planned to go out Friday morning, weather permitting, Rivera said.

The deaths bring this winter's tally of avalanche deaths in the U.S. to at least 15, which is less than the average of about 30 people who are killed by avalanches each year. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which keeps track of the figure nationally, tallied 13 deaths before authorities announced Thursday's fatalities.

The site of the avalanche, Lone Peak, is one of the highest peaks in the Wasatch Range towering over Utah's capital city. Its steep, rugged terrain makes it a popular destination for advanced backcountry skiers, and experienced climbers can be found scaling its sheer granite walls in the warmer months.

The slide happened in the Big Willow Cirque, said Craig Gordon with the Utah Avalanche Center.

"This is very serious terrain. It's steep. It's north-facing. The crew that was up there would have to be experienced," Gordon said.

Rivera said they were experienced skiers who were prepared for the skiing.

About 2.5 feet of heavy, wet snow fell in the area in the past three days during storms that also brought very strong winds, he said.

"With spring, avalanche conditions can change in an instant," Gordon said.

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The Associated Press