6 Caught and 2 Buried in an Avalanche in Big Cottonwood Canyon, UT this Weekend

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This is the only photo the party was able to take. Heavy snowfall and poor visibility made it difficult to take more representative photos. Credit: UAC

Six people were caught and carried in an avalanche in Cardiff Fork, UT on Sunday afternoon. Two of them were buried, and The Utah Avalanche Center tweeted at noon that three of those six people are injured.

“More snow than expected, new snow avalanches are happening,” the tweet said.

The avalanche occurred on Cardiac Bowl, a steep, north-facing bowl on the north side of Mount Superior (11,000′) in Big Cottonwood Canyon shortly before noon, the Utah Avalanche Center said. Six individuals were caught by the avalanche and carried approximately 100 yards when 3 to 12 inches of the entire bowl slid, according to Unified police officials.

A woman, 20, was buried up to her shoulders in snow and a man, 57, was buried up to his neck, police said.

The other members of the group were prepared with equipment and were able to dig the man and woman out before making it to a safer area and calling for help. One of the members of the group is a doctor and determined the woman had suffered a knee injury. The man was not hurt in the incident, police said. Rescue teams were able to make it to the group and help get the woman down the mountain on a snowmobile. By about 4 p.m., the group had made it to down the mountain and to the Donut Falls Trailhead.

Cardiac Bowl avalanche from November 17th, 2013. Credit: UAC

Cardiff Fork, also known as Mill D South Fork, is a backcountry skiing hotspot accessed in Big Cottonwood Canyon. The area received more snow than expected Sunday morning, and new avalanches have been occurring, according to the Utah Avalanche Center. Cardiff Fork is down-canyon from Days Fork and up-canyon from the lesser skied Mineral Fork.

“If you go into the backcountry, use extreme caution,” said Unified Police Sgt. James Blanton. “Sounds like these people were prepared in the backcountry and had the right gear and right equipment and things like that, but things still happen.”

Recent weekend storms put several inches of fresh snow down on the mountains, according to avalanche forecasters. As skiers and snowboarders look to take advantage of the snow Monday, experts urge they keep a close eye on avalanche conditions. For more information on those conditions, visit UtahAvalancheCenter.org.

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Current danger. Credit: Utah Avalanche Center

Report from UAC:

[Forecaster CommentThanks to the party involved for contacting the UAC, and for discussing the details of the occurrence. Although there was one injury involved, the situation could have been much worse and we are thankful they were all able to safely return from the mountains.]
A party of 6 went into Cardiff Fork, with their first run into the drainage from Little Superior. They reported sluffing and cracking in the storm snow. From the bottom of Cardiff drainage, the party then began ascending towards Cardiac Bowl. They reported cracking up to 2′ from their skis as they worked their ways up the bowl, using the standard skin track on the east side of the Bowl.
Skier A was breaking trail, and approximately 300′ below the summit of Superior, triggered a sluff of storm snow. As the sluff began to move, it sympathetically triggered a much larger storm slab avalanche that broke 200′ above the party, and breaking out across the entirety of Cardiac Bowl. All 6 skiers were carried in the slide. Skier A was carried an estimated 700′, and was buried up to their neck. Skier B was carried and buried to their chest, and sustained a possibly torn ACL. Skier C was carried a short distance, and sustained a dislocated shoulder. The other three skiers in the party were carried shorter distances and were able to easily extract themselves from the debris.
Skier A reported finding a density inversion down about 6″, with some wind-drifted snow on top of the snow surface. They also reported the initial sluff was failing in the top 6″, but the larger, sympathetically-triggered slide was 12-14″ deep.
The party called Alta Central, and a rescue from Cardiff Fork in Big Cottonwood Canyon with support from local Cottonwood resorts commenced. The party was able to construct a rescue sled by attaching skis together, where they were able to get down lower in the canyon and out from underneath the risk of additional avalanching. By 4 pm the party was safely out of the canyon.

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