Man survives Brighton avalanche

Published April 5, 2009 5:47 pm
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A Salt Lake City man who tumbled about 300 feet in an avalanche at Brighton Ski Resort survived to walk from the slide.

Eric Railsback, 45, and Andrew Starr, 46, were hiking Sunday up a ridgeline at Mount Millicent to ski down the back side, said Salt Lake County sheriff's Lt. Don Hutson.

About halfway up the ridgeline about 9:45 a.m., Railsback triggered an avalanche that carried him down about 300 feet of rocky terrain, trapping him up to his chest in snow.

Despite the cold and the rough ride, he was able to dig himself out with a shovel he carried with him and walk down the mountain, Hutson said. He twisted his knee, but was not transported to a hospital, Hutson said.

"He's incredibly lucky," he said. "There was no one there to help him."

Starr, meanwhile, was ahead and out of sight. He didn't realize there had been an avalanche and continued into the backcountry.

When Railsback reached the bottom of the mountain, he did not know his friend was okay, Hutson said. A Salt Lake County's Sheriff's Office search-and-rescue operation started, but switched to a precautionary probe when Starr was found. No one else was found in the area.

The slide was about 50 feet wide and 10 feet deep. Through police, Railsback declined to be interviewed.

Avalanche danger could increase as newly warm and sunny weather affects more than 100 inches of snow that has fallen in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons over the last two weeks, said Craig Gordon, a forecaster with the Utah Avalanche Center.

"Folks should be prepared for their own rescue, carrying beacon shovels and probes," he said. Sunday's slide was triggered when a cornice, a formation caused by blowing snow, fell.

"It's a common mistake in the mountains to get too close to overhanging cornices," he said.

He recommended people check the Avalanche Center's Web site at http://www.utahavalanchecenter.org" Target="_BLANK">http://www.utahavalanchecenter.org or call 888-999-4019 for forecasts.

"The best avalanche is the one we don't trigger," he said.

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

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