Four skiers were killed and two escaped death in an avalanche Wednesday afternoon at the top of the Gold Basin area of the La Sal Mountains southeast of Moab.
The avalanche occurred about 3 p.m. at about the 11,000-foot level of the basin, located about 25 miles southeast of Moab.Names of the victims, members of an avalanche checking team, had not been released, pending notification of next of kin, a dispatcher for the Grand County sheriff's office said at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
But Jerry Shaw, district ranger, Moab Ranger District of the Manti-La Sal National Forest, said one of the victims was an avalanche forecaster.
Shaw said the individual's family had been notified but that he was not free to release the victim's name.
All six individuals were buried by the slide, with two of them being able to free themselves. But it was too late to revive the other four by resuscitation, Shaw said.
The two individuals who escaped death in the slide were able to ski to Moab to notify the sheriff's office about 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Shaw said the six individuals, all residents of Moab, were experienced back-country skiers and all were experienced in working avalanches, Shaw said.
A rescue party was preparing to leave for the area. A helicopter was dispatched for the rescue operation but was unable to fly because of poor weather conditions, Shaw said.
The avalanche area is located in San Juan County, but the rescue effort is being directed by Grand County Sheriff Jim Nyland.
Meanwhile, the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center at the Salt Lake office of the National Weather Service, which was notified of the tragedy Thursday morning, confirmed that two other skiers Wednesday spied a natural avalanche in the mountains outside of Park City, where 11/2 feet of snow fell between Monday evening and Wednesday morning.
After checking it out for a few minutes, one individual skied down the slope parallel to the slide path without making a turn. Nothing occurred. The skier's companion followed, making a few turns into the descent. That triggered an avalanche 300 feet wide that missed both skiers, according to the avalanche forecast center.
Al Soucie, an avalanche forecaster at the Salt Lake office, said the danger of avalanches remains high in many areas of Utah. An avalanche warning was issued for the Wasatch Mountains from Spanish Fork Canyon through the mountains east of Ogden.
New snow amounts, up to 2 feet, falling on a weak snowpack and increased ridgetop winds have rapidly increased the danger.