WEBER COUNTY, Utah (ABC 4 News) – A 21-year-old Snowbasin lift operator is dead after getting caught up in an out-of-bounds avalanche Wednesday. The avalanche occurred around 10:35 Wednesday in the Hells Canyon area.
The victim has been identified as 21-year-old Blake Ford. Snowbasin officials say Ford and a friend just made it out of bounds in the Hells Canyon area when Ford reportedly triggered the slide. Snowbasin General Manager John Loomis told ABC 4 News, “The first person came out on to the slope and that’s when it released.”
The Hells Canyon area is unforgiving; it’s very steep and very rocky terrain. Loomis said, “It’s a very advanced terrain with a lot of narrow shoots that funnel down into a bigger area at the bottom. It’s one of the reasons that made the rescue so difficult, because there was still a lot of starting zones up there that could have possibly slid and threatened the rescuers.”
The slide happened around 10:35, but Ford’s body wasn’t found until 11:45. He wasn’t wearing a beacon or any avalanche rescue gear, but experts with the Utah Avalanche Center say it’s unclear if that could have saved him. The slide carried Ford down more than 1,500 vertical feet.
Utah Avalanche Center’s avalanche expert Craig Gordon said, “With this type of terrain, it’s steep, it’s rocky, it’s cliffy and often times it’s trauma that kills people in avalanches.”
Gordon warns all backcountry skiers to give this new snow some time to stabilize and if you have to ski beyond the boundaries at least stay on more gentle slopes. “This is the first big shot of snow the snowpack has seen in over a month. Right now we’ve got to exercise a little bit of patience, tone down our objectives and let the snow pack stabilize. Eventually we’ll be able to get in to deep terrain.”