Four skiers in their twenties died when one of the deadliest avalanches in Utah history struck a popular countryside ski area.
Four other people were also buried in the slide but managed to recover themselves and did not sustain serious injuries, according to Salt Lake County Unified Police.
Authorities said the skiers were from two separate groups and the eight had prepared with necessary safety gear from the avalanche.
All four of the dead were from the Salt Lake City area, not far from where the skier’s avalanche caused them to be swept away in Milkcreek Canyon.
Jenny Wilson, mayor of Salt Lake County, said our community outside is very connected so this kind of loss touches on a lot of people and it’s really heartbreaking. “These are the people who love to do what they did and live life to the fullest.”
Three of the dead have been identified as residents of Salt Lake City: Lewis Hollian and Stephanie Hopkins, both 26, and Thomas Louis Steinbercher, 23. Sarah Mugamyan was the fourth, 29, from Sandy, Utah.
Drew Hardesty of the Utah Center told Avalanche that they were both experienced and well-known skiers in the community, told the Salt Lake Tribune. The center said the risk of an avalanche around Salt Lake was high on Saturday, after it posted on Twitter a warning hours before an avalanche.
A faint distress call alerted the police to slip shortly before noon Saturday. Police said the survivors found and drove their four companions, but they had already died.
Wilson said the avalanche was “incredibly extensive,” and that still unstable snow conditions prevented rescuers from immediately recovering the bodies on Saturday. Rescue operations resumed Sunday morning.
Avalanches have also claimed the lives of others in recent days: The bodies of three hikers were found near Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday. In Colorado, four country skiers perished in two separate slides in the past week.
Avalanche forecasters and search and rescue groups have been worried for weeks that more people will venture into the back country to avoid congestion and reservation systems at ski resorts during the coronavirus pandemic.
This winter is on the way to be even more deadly with avalanches than last year. Figures compiled by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center show that 21 people have died so far this year in the United States, 15 of them skaters. There are still more than two months in the season.
The agency found that last year, by contrast, a total of 23 people, including eight skiers, died between December and April.