huge’ avalanche near utah ski resort; one dead

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    Updated: 7:41 p.m. ET Jan. 14, 2005

    PARK CITY, Utah - A major avalanche crashed down a mountain near a ski slope abutting the popular Canyons resort Friday, killing at least one person, the Utah Avalanche Center said. Rescue teams and dogs were searching for other missing skiers who were in an area off-limits to them.

    A reporter who was at the resort said she counted as many as 15 people who may have been buried under the snow, but Summit County Sheriff David Edmunds said, “That number is high.”

    Edmunds said at a news conference that no bodies had been recovered. However, he said, “we believe now there are multiple victims,” and he held out little hope that anyone would be found alive.

    “We’re going to go out and do whatever we can to make recoveries for these families,” Edmunds said several hours after the avalanche.

    Edmunds told MSNBC TV that the avalanche was massive. “On a scale of 10, I'd say it was a 7 or an 8,” he said. “You could see it from the road.”

    Edmunds said that the search was taking considerable time because of the danger of a secondary avalanche. Rescue crews were setting off charges to stabilize the rest of the area, and at least two medical helicopters were flown to a command post at the scene.

    Out-of-bounds area popular with expert skiers
    Employees of The Canyons, which became famous during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, told NBC affiliate KSL-TV that the avalanche occurred in an area south of the resort, near the top of a ski lift that provides access to an expert area known as Dutch Draw.

    Jill Atwood, a reporter for KSFI radio who was visiting the resort, described the avalanche as “huge,” measuring 300 to 500 yards in width. “It looked like someone took a knife and sliced off the mountain,” she told MSNBC-TV. Other witnesses said they could see only the tops of tall evergreen trees in the slide area.

    Although the area is out of bounds, the resort “can’t close it off. It would be like trying to close a city park,” said Bruce Tremper, director of the Utah Avalanche Center.

    Skiers said they believed warmer temperatures Friday might have contributed to the slide, which authorities said was likely to have been triggered by a single skier.

    “It didn’t cross my mind since we’ve had a few clear days, but since it’s so warm, yeah, it doesn’t surprise me too much,” said one of them, Dallin Kalmer. “I’m just glad I wasn’t over there.”

    Danger well known
    The Canyons said it had received 9 feet of new snow since Dec. 28, including 14 inches in the last three days. Authorities had been warning for days that conditions were right for a major avalanche in the area’s packed winter resorts; the avalanche center said in an advisory on its Web site that “a CONSIDERABLE danger still exists in the mountains today on steep north through southeast facing slopes.”

    “The wind we’ve had lately, the moderate to high winds, have created some cornices and sensitive snow slopes,” Utah County sheriff's Sgt. Tom Hodgson said earlier Friday. “When the sun comes out, it starts to weaken those areas and trigger natural avalanches.”

    Four people were already known to have been stranded since Tuesday by a series of avalanches in the Stillwater Dam area of the Uinta Mountains. They were reported to be in good condition and rejected an offer to helicopter them out, opting to look for a clear path on their own, KSL reported.
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