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After 3 Utah ski resort deaths in 2 weeks, expert shares safety message

Feb 16, 2022, 12:43 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 4:34 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Ski experts are sharing a message of safety after a deadly month so far at Utah’s ski resorts. Three people have died in incidents at three different resorts since the beginning of February.

Craig Gordon with the Utah Avalanche Center usually focuses on danger out-of-bounds. But he’s been following the deaths in controlled terrain and had some insight into how this season’s weather has been creating tricky conditions both in and out of ski resorts.

“These are unusual snow surface conditions for us in Utah, particularly going into the second and third week of February,” Gordon said.

Well-known and highly respected Intermountain Healthcare transplant surgeon Dr. Andrew Gagnon saving hundreds of lives after falling down a 100-foot cliff at Solitude and continuing to slide several hundred feet.

Gagnon had been credited for saving hundreds of lives, so his death came as a total shock with a wide impact on the medical and transplant communities.

On Friday, a 35-year-old man died following a ski crash at Snowbasin after colliding with something, though it’s unclear what.

And on Sunday, the Alta Town Marshal confirmed 14-year-old Henry Kendell, of Millcreek, ended up in a collision at Alta and died from his injuries.

Conditions right now, Gordon said, aren’t normal for Utah. Temperatures are rising and rapidly falling. Snow is moving in after weeks of dry and sunny weather.

“Right now, the snow’s surface conditions are super variable. They’re hard in some places, they’re icy in other places on steep slopes,” Gordon explained. “It’s very hard to stop yourself from falling once your skis, your board, your snowmobile is knocked out from underneath your feet.”

A small crash, Gordon indicated, can become catastrophic on the icy, unforgiving slopes.

His message to those heading into the mountains: No matter if it’s resort or backcountry terrain, it’s best to slow down and stay aware of conditions at all times. Even what may seem safe inbounds, can still cause problems.

A round of snow moved in Wednesday, and while fresh powder is great news for resorts, Gordon said it means danger in the backcountry will rise — something to keep an eye on in coming days and weeks.

“Our snow surface conditions aren’t quite as soft and forgiving as we normally expect this time of year,” he said. “So maybe it’s time just to temper down our objectives, pump the brakes a little bit, and size up some of the situations that we’re getting in so that we can enjoy a great weekend out in our amazing mountains.”

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After 3 Utah ski resort deaths in 2 weeks, expert shares safety message