A backcountry outing ended in tragedy Saturday when a 24-year-old snowboarder was overtaken by an avalanche between Big and Little Cottonwood canyons.
Alecsander Barton, of Salt Lake City, was part of a three-man group that was skiing and snowboarding on Kessler Peak, which drops into Mineral Fork Canyon. About 11:30 a.m., an avalanche was triggered, Unified Police Department Lt. Justin Hoyal said.
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The trio of men — one a skier and two snowboarders, all in their 20s — were hiking near the Argenta area in Big Cottonwood Canyon, about eight miles from the canyon’s mouth. Barton, who is originally from Michigan, was caught by the avalanche as he descended down the mountain.
One of the friends called 911 to report the accident.
Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, Wasatch Powderbird and the Alta Marshal’s office flew to the area by helicopter to help search for the man.
"The friends were searching for the victim until crews arrived," Hoyal said.
Utah Avalanche Center forecaster Craig Gordon learned in talking with the two friends they were prepared for their backcountry trip and "were equipped with rescue gear."
Barton reportedly was the first one to go down the west-facing side of Kessler Peak into Mineral Fork, where the terrain starts as an open area, then funnels into a steep chute.
"He was heading down, and he was the one that triggered the avalanche," Gordon said.
The two friends watched the scene unfold. They found Barton, who had already died, buried under several feet of snow at the end of the avalanche using beacons, shovels and probes, Gordon said.
Just after their discovery, emergency responders arrived with dogs. Hoyal said the emergency crews confirmed Barton’s death about 12:45 p.m.
Both of the friends, who were taken down the mountain by helicopter, were uninjured.
Utah Avalanche Center director Bruce Tremper said dangerous conditions exist in the backcountry and any slopes steeper than 30 degrees should be avoided.
"We are just really warning people to stay off steep slopes," he said.
The western Uintas and the Manti-Skyline districts are rated "red" or at high risk for avalanches, while the Utah Avalanche Center graded the mountains of Logan, Ogden, Salt Lake City and Provo "orange" or posing considerable risk.
This is the winter season’s second avalanche-related death.
On Nov. 13, professional skier Matthew Jamie Pierre, 38, died in an avalanche he triggered while snowboarding at the then-unopened Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.
Pierre, of Big Sky, Mont., had hiked from Alta with a friend to the South Chute of Snowbird’s Gad Valley and was on his snowboard when an avalanche swept him down the narrow rocky chute, according to an investigation by the Utah Avalanche Center. Pierre was not buried in the avalanche but was dead when rescuers reached him.
The area where Pierre was snowboarding is within the resort’s boundaries, but because Snowbird was not yet open no avalanche control had been done.
Pierre appeared in numerous Warren Miller films and in 2006 set a world-record cliff jump at Wyoming’s Grand Targhee Resort by dropping 245 vertical feet.
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