Salt Lake man presumed dead in avalanche
ASPEN GROVE - Just before Marshall Higgins headed out for a snowshoeing excursion into the high mountains east of Provo, Jeff Frederick took a photo of his friend in the pre-dawn darkness of Aspen Grove.
On Sunday, that photo was tacked to the inside wall of a Utah County sheriff's mobile command center as helicopters waited to get to the mountainside where Higgins had been swept away in an avalanche on Saturday. By midafternoon, authorities told Higgins' family that the search had been deemed a search and recovery, not a search and rescue. A short time later, weather and snow conditions forced temporary cancellation of the search.
Earlier, Higgins' brother Adam Higgins, said the family was aware that change in the status of the search meant Higgins likely had died. "It was disheartening but expected," he said. ''We're so grateful Jeff came out of it.''
Higgins, 31, and Frederick, both of Salt Lake City, had hiked for more than five hours to an altitude of about 10,300 feet near Hidden Lakes when the slide engulfed them. Frederick was able to ride it out, clutching a tree to stop. He searched for his friend, then used his cell phone to call for help. A Utah Department of Safety helicopter plucked him to safety at about 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Also on Sunday, a 16-year-old California boy who had gone missing in an out-of-bounds area of Snowbird ski resort was found alive and in good condition at about 11:20 a.m.
Snowbird spokeswoman Laura Schaffer said the boy built a snow cave in Mineral Basin, in the north fork of American Fork Canyon, and emerged at about 10 a.m. Sunday and flagged down a search helicopter.
"He was a smart kid, and the clear weather today, those were the saving graces in this situation," she said. The boy's parents declined to release their and their son's names and hometown, she said.
In the search for Higgins on Sunday, Wasatch Powderbird Guides dropped 29 explosive charges to knock loose any potential avalanches before search crews were to be flown in. But shifting winds and intermittent cloud cover forced authorities to call off the search, and Utah County Sheriff James Tracy said forecasts of another storm system meant it would not resume today.
Tracy said weather and conditions would determine when the search would continue.
Higgins' brothers described him as a sociable guy who made friends easily. An experienced snowshoer and outdoorsman, he had ventured into the area several times in years past, his brother Brandon Higgins said. This was his first foray there this winter; Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Darren Gilbert said Saturday neither man had an avalanche beacon on this trip.
Frederick declined to speak to reporters Sunday at Aspen Grove.
Higgins is survived by his wife, Kelly, and daughters Hannah, 3, and 2-year-old Emilee.
His presumed death is the first this season. By this time last year, four people had died in avalanches, and a total of eight would perish, making that season one of the deadliest since records have been kept.
Saturday's avalanche was near where three men died on Dec. 26, 2003. They were among a group of five who were swept down as they snowboarded in the Roberts Horn Chute of Aspen Grove, about 2 1/2 miles north of Sundance Ski Resort.
The California boy apparently slipped through two rope barriers at about 1:30 p.m. Saturday to get to the out-of-bounds backcountry, Snowbird's Schaffer said Sunday. He was reported missing about 4 p.m., and the ski patrol and dogs searched for him until 11:30 p.m., when conditions were deemed too unsafe, Schaffer said.
During that time, the boy carved out a snow cave for refuge, she said, adding that he had heard snowcats about 100 yards away at about 10 p.m. that night but was "too tired" to flag them down. The boy slept in the cave through the night, awakening at 10 a.m. Sunday to the sound of a helicopter. He waved to it and was rescued about 90 minutes later.
The boy and his parents had been skiing and boarding, but when he went missing he was with some cousins, Schaffer said.
Salt Lake County sheriff's Sgt. Todd Griffiths said the boy would not be penalized for leaving the resort's boundaries. ''He basically got lost, went off a small hill and got in an area where he felt he could not hike out,'' he said.
In all, the ski patrol, Wasatch Powerbird Guides and representatives of five counties - Salt Lake, Weber, Utah, Davis and Wasatch, contributed to the two searches.
Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle and editor Peg McEntee contributed to this report.