SALT LAKE COUNTY (ABC 4 News) – Utah’s three-year streak of zero snowmobile fatalities by avalanches ended on Friday.
Officials said Scott Perhson Jr. of Monticello died in an avalanche in the La Sal Mountains in southeastern Utah on Friday. Tommy Hawkins of Layton also died in an avalanche near the Upper Palisades Lake in Eastern Idaho on the same day.
Hawkins’ family members told the East Idaho News that he and three other snowmobile riders were all buried in the avalanche, but the other riders were able to get out.
Hawkins deployed an avalanche bag and activated his beacon, but by the time the other riders found him, it was too late.
“Even when we have all of the right avalanche rescue gear, the clock is ticking and seconds count. Often times, even the most well-rehearsed rescue can have a super sad outcome,” said Craig Gordon with the Utah Avalanche Center.
Officer Brian Todd with the Unified Police Canyon Patrol said they’ve been seeing more snowmobile riders heading up Guardsman’s Pass in Big Cottonwood Canyon this season because of the high snow levels. Friday’s fatalities serve as an alarming reminder of how important it is to bring the proper avalanche equipment with you.
“Make sure you have a beacon with you so that if you get stuck or get caught in an avalanche, somebody can find you,” said Ofcr. Todd. “Always go with a buddy and make sure you have a shovel to help dig yourself out. Bring probes and airbags.”
Gordon said the most important precaution a snowmobile rider can take is checking conditions with the Utah Avalanche Center’s website before heading out.
“To dispel any myths, noise doesn’t trigger avalanches. It doesn’t matter what we’re riding. All we need to do is find one weakness in the snowpack, collapse that snow, and now, a slab is crashing down the mountains,” said Gordon. “No matter what we choose to ride in the backcountry – skis, boards, snowshoes, snowmobiles…remember, avalanches don’t discriminate.”
Gordon said one in four people caught in avalanches are killed by trauma, so avoidance is key.
“I think the most common mistake is people get in over their ability. They’re out there having fun and they just want to do a little bit more than they’re comfortable with and they think they can do it. It’s just going above your skill level and that’s where you run into problems,” said Ofcr. Todd.
For more tips and information, check out Know Before You Go’s website.