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45-Year-Old SLC Man Identified As Backcountry Avalanche Victim

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A 45-year-old snowboarder who died in a backcountry avalanche has been identified as Matt Tauszik of Salt Lake City.

Tauszik died in an avalanche that he triggered on his snowboard shortly before 11 a.m. Sunday and officials with the Utah Avalanche Center are urging backcountry visitors to be cautious after the season’s first avalanche fatality.

“To go down that specific area, you have to have a certain level of skill,” said Lieutenant Andrew Wright with the Summit County Sheriffs Office.

Tauszik dropped into an area known as Dutch Draw, accessed through a backcountry gate at the top of Park City Mountain Resort’s 9990′ lift. The avalanche was three feet deep and 100 feet wide.

Skiers in that area saw the avalanche debris, and then Tauszik’s snowboard, and dug him out. They tried to save his life with CPR, but he died later at the hospital.

“The chances of triggering an avalanche after heavy snowfall like we’ve had is very high,” Wright said. “That’s why we always encourage people you have to follow the warnings from the Utah Avalanche Center.”

Tauszik was at the resort with his wife Michelle Schmitt, who is a communications worker in the office of Congressman Ben McAdams, and their son before he left to go on that run.

“At the initial part of the ridge, it’s not very steep. Sort of benign-looking,” said Mark Staples, director of the U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center. He and one of his avalanche forecasters went up to investigate the layers of snow this afternoon.

“It doesn’t matter where you are, it’s all backcountry,” Staples said. “The snowpack is uncontrolled. There’s no work done on it by any ski patrol, and it doesn’t matter if you’re one foot from the rope line or a mile from the ski resort it’s all the same.”

Staples urged everyone heading into the backcountry to take a partner, the proper safety gear and knowledge of the conditions of the day.

The last two avalanche deaths in Dutch Draw were in February 2012 and 2005. All skiers and snowboarders approaching that gate are warned.

“There is a lot of signage up there warning people of the extreme danger associated going beyond that point, leaving the resort and going into the backcountry,” Wright said.

Congressman Ben McAdams’ office said it was grieving the loss and McAdams said in a statement on Monday that the family loved being outdoors together, particularly on the ski mountain.

“Our hearts are broken today, as we mourn with my Director of Digital Communications Michelle Schmitt and her son for the loss of their husband and father – Matt Tauszik, who was killed in this weekend’s avalanche.  Their family loved being outdoors together, particularly on the ski mountain. Michelle has worked for me in both the Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office and now here in my Congressional office and is well known for her professional and talented work with local news media and digital communications.  We grieve Matt’s loss with her and will provide as much support as possible during this sad time.”

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