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Search And Rescue: Avalanches Taking Emotional Toll On Crews Amid Busy Season

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Seven hundred people virtually attended a debriefing about the Feb. 6 avalanche in Millcreek Canyon that killed four backcountry skiers earlier this month.

Forecasters with the Utah Avalanche Center discussed the slide opened the meeting for questions from the public.

When they kicked off the discussion, they were very clear in pointing out these meetings aren’t to place blame or find fault but are specifically a way to look back to learn from what happened.

“I’ve been on lots of deadly avalanches,” said forecaster Mark Staples. “I carry their names and stories with me every time I go into the backcountry.”

This year has been one of the deadliest on record for Utah and the western United States. Todd Taylor, who works with Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue, said there have been 22 avalanche deaths in 22 days across the western U.S.

He attributed the spike to tricky snow conditions this winter combined with an increase in backcountry enthusiasts. As a mountain rescue team, he said every recovery mission is tough.

“We are a mountain rescue team and everyone on the team recreates in the mountains — that’s why we joined the team,” Taylor said. “We really hope every single person comes home from the mountains after every trip, every hike, every ski, every climb — and they can do that if they make great decisions.”

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