A 24-year-old University of Utah student died Saturday afternoon when an avalanche swept him 2,400 vertical feet down a slope in the Wasatch backcountry.
Alecsander Barton, originally from Concord, Mich., was reportedly an experienced backcountry skier and snowboarder. He had just begun his descent of a run called Little Giant on the west side of Kessler Peak in Big Cottonwood Canyon when the massive hard slab avalanche broke three feet deep and an estimated 1,000 feet wide. His two companions still standing on the ridge notified authorities and then began their search for the victim. Barton, who would have turned 25 today, was located by his companions completely buried near the foot of the debris field. With the help of avalanche beacons, they found him dead less than an hour later. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The death marks the ninth avalanche fatality in the West this season, and experts say the risk of additional slides could remain high all winter. Avalanche danger in the area had been rated as high, with pockets of considerable danger, by the Utah Avalanche Center that morning. Months of persistent high pressure have left numerous layers of faceted, sugary snow in the area, leading to a substantial risk of avalanche on steep slopes.
Image of the avalanche on Kessler Peak that killed Alecsander Barton on Saturday. The slide’s crown is marked with a red wavy line, while Barton’s body was discovered near the red X. (Photo: Utah Avalanche Center)
“Snowfall in the Central Wasatch through the end of December was the fourth driest on record with just three feet of snow on the ground in the upper elevation shady terrain,” the Utah Avalanche Center wrote in its investigation of Saturday’s fatality. “The prolonged drought resulted in the lingering snowpack deteriorating into weak faceted depth hoar crystals with all the internal strength of a house of cards.”
Unified police Lt. Justin Hoyal says the latest victim was with two other men when the avalanche occurred Saturday morning in the Wasatch Range’s Big Cottonwood Canyon near Salt Lake City. All three people involved were reportedly carrying appropriate avalanche gear. Barton’s body and his companions were evacuated from the scene by a helicopter provided by Wasatch Powderbird Guides. Tributes to Barton’s life have poured in from friends and family on Barton’s Facebook page.
“To say he will be missed is surely an understatement,” his father Bernie Barton posted on Facebook. “He died like he lived…with passion, respect and full tilt. He just has that one last mountain to climb, and I know the silence he’s hearing is the wind telling him ‘Go for it, dude.’ You could no longer contain Alecs any more than you can corral the wind.
“I’ll miss him like you would not believe. He loved the mountains, and they loved him. I guess they just thought they needed him more than we did. He cheated death many times…but he never cheated life.”