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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

At least 2 buried in Utah avalanche

Three search-and-rescue patrol members ski through debris at the scene of an avalanche in the backcountry adjacent to the Canyons Ski Resorts in Park City, Utah, Friday. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Doug Alden Associated Press

PARK CITY, Utah – A quarter-mile-wide avalanche outside The Canyons ski resort Friday buried at least two victims in a backcountry area marked with a “skull and crossbones” warning to thrill-seekers.

No bodies have been recovered, and victims were believed to be buried in snow up to 30 feet deep.

Based on eyewitness accounts of the slide, Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds estimated late Friday that between two and five people were trapped. He discounted earlier reports that as many as 15 people were buried.

“We don’t believe it’s a staggering number,” Edmunds said, adding that authorities had not yet received specific reports of missing persons.

The rescue effort was called off about 5 p.m. because of concerns over secondary slides, Edmunds said. The “slow and meticulous” search will resume at 7 a.m. today, he said.

Before stopping for the day, rescue crews had shifted to recovery mode, a sign that crews were not expecting to find survivors.

“I think it’s safe to say the odds of surviving are very, very low,” he said.

About 100 search and rescue workers, rescue dog crews and members of ski patrols from Summit County resorts had searched the area of Dutch Draw for victims, Edmunds said.

The enormity of the slide was underscored when rescuers, working on 30-degree slopes, found that their 20-foot probes weren’t going deep enough into the snow.

The avalanche happened outside the boundary of The Canyons resort on federal land in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

Dutch Draw is an out-of-bounds area just south of The Canyons resort, but 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.

The center warned of considerable avalanche danger Friday, which means human-triggered avalanches were probable.

“We’re recommending people avoid being on or underneath any steep slopes,” Tremper said.

Edmunds said he was not sure if victims were wearing avalanche beacons, which would transmit their locations, even under the snow.