An avalanche sloughing off a Utah mountainside killed a state Department of Transportation avalanche forecaster while he was surveying snow levels near a popular winter recreation area, authorities reported.
A co-worker last heard from 34-year-old Craig Patterson about 1:30pm on Thursday. When the Park City man didn’t return home from work, his family began to worry, said Justin Hoyal, a lieutenant with the Unified Police of Greater Salt Lake.
Authorities got the call about 7:30pm, just before dark, Hoyal said. Searchers in a helicopter dispatched to the area quickly found Patterson, and a crew on snowmobiles was able to retrieve his body at about 1am Friday morning.
Patterson was on the east face of Cardiff Fork in Big Cottonwood Canyon in Utah’s famous Wasatch Range. Big Cottonwood Canyon Road is a 16 mile-long state highway linking the Salt Lake City area with two popular ski resorts.
“It’s a sad, tragic accident,” Hoyal said. “He was up there checking snow to keep people on the highways safe.”
Officials with the Utah Department of Transportation described Patterson as a consummate skier and mountaineer, who had taught others how to survive avalanches.
“He was very well-rounded and respected in his field. That’s why we hired him six years ago,” said Adam Carrillo, a state Department of Transportation spokesman. “He wasn’t a rookie by any means; he was very experienced. He was doing the work he loved.”
This was the first time an avalanche forecaster has been killed in the line of duty, Carrillo said, “and we do this year after year.”
A team of surveyors returned to the scene of the avalanche on Friday to determine what went wrong. They hope to apply lessons learned to future forecasters.
“They believe he was doing everything by the book, everything he should have done,” Carrillo said.
Thursday’s avalanche did NOT reach the highway as a result of previous work to keep the mountain slopes clear, Carrillo said.