Avalanche Claims Lives of Two Experienced Backcountry Skiers in Utah

Two experienced backcountry skiers, Andrew Cameron and Austin Mallet, died in an avalanche on Utah's Lone Peak on May 9, 2024. A third skier was rescued with minor injuries, and the bodies of the two victims were recovered the next day.

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Nitish Verma
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Avalanche Claims Lives of Two Experienced Backcountry Skiers in Utah

Avalanche Claims Lives of Two Experienced Backcountry Skiers in Utah

On Thursday, May 9, 2024, a devastating avalanche on Lone Peak in the Wasatch Range, southeast of Salt Lake City, Utah, claimed the lives of two experienced backcountry skiers. The victims, 23-year-old Andrew Cameron of Utah and 32-year-old Austin Mallet of Montana, were climbing up a ridge on a slope called Big Willow Aprons with a third skier when the avalanche was unintentionally triggered around 10 a.m.

Why this matters: This tragic incident highlights the importance of avalanche safety and awareness, especially during spring when weather conditions can be unpredictable and volatile. It also underscores the need for skiers and outdoor enthusiasts to stay informed about changing weather patterns and take necessary precautions to minimize the risk of accidents.

The third skier, whose identity remains undisclosed, was partially buried but managed to dig himself out and call for help. He was rescued and taken to a nearby hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries and released later that day. However, Cameron and Mallet were swept away and fully buried under several feet of snow.

Search and rescue teams, including members from the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Search and Rescue, Utah Department of Public Safety, U.S. Forest Service, and other local agencies, responded to the scene. Despite their best efforts, treacherous weather conditions prevented them from recovering the bodies of Cameron and Mallet on Thursday. "We know that's hard on the families when you have to leave somebody up there," said Alan Bergstrom, a squad leader with the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Search and Rescue team.

The recovery mission resumed on Friday morning, and crews were able to locate and retrieve the bodies of the two skiers. The remains were brought off the mountain via helicopter and transported to the medical examiner's office. Family members of the victims were present at the search staging area near Sandy on Thursday and Friday.

According to Craig Gordon, an avalanche forecaster with the U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center, the recent storms on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday brought up to 3 feet (1 meter) of heavy, wet snow and strong winds to the area, significantly increasing the avalanche danger. "This is very serious terrain. It's steep. It's north-facing. The crew that was up there would have to be experienced," Gordon noted. He also emphasized that the dynamic nature of the snowpack and rapidly changing weather patterns in the mountains contributed to the high risk of avalanches.

The Lone Peak area, known for its steep and unforgiving terrain, is a popular destination for advanced backcountry skiers. More than two feet of new snow fell in the region this week, bringing the season total at nearby Snowbird ski resort to just over 600 inches. The National Weather Service had also predicted strong winds throughout Thursday, with gusts over 60 mph.

The Utah Avalanche Center (UAC) stopped issuing regular advisories in mid-April, transitioning to intermittent reports of any activity. On May 1, the UAC issued its final product of the season for the Salt Lake Area mountains, reminding skiers of the three different avalanche problems typically encountered during spring: wet snow, new snow instability, and wind-drifted snow. Greg Gagne, an eight-year forecaster for the UAC, highlighted the challenges of forecasting during spring, urging individuals to monitor changing conditions themselves. "This time of year, it's really difficult to get an accurate report," said Gagne. "What you say at 7 a.m. could be wrong at 7:30. In the spring, warm and cold air are mixing in the atmosphere. It's so volatile."

The tragic incident marks the first avalanche fatalities in Utah this season. Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera expressed condolences to the families of the victims, saying, "Losing loved ones suddenly is always tragic. Our hearts are with the loved ones that Austin and Andrew left behind." Rivera also thanked all those who assisted in the search and recovery efforts over the two days, with a special mention of the volunteer members of the Salt Lake County Search and Rescue Team.

The deaths of Andrew Cameron and Austin Mallet bring the total number of avalanche fatalities in the United States this winter to 15, according to the Utah Avalanche Center. On average, 30 people die in avalanches each year in the U.S. As the investigation into the incident continues, officials work to determine the exact circumstances surrounding this heartbreaking tragedy that