Forecaster Killed In Avalanche: What Was Craig Patterson Doing When He Was Killed?

By Philip Ross on April 12, 2013 4:33 PM EDT

forecaster killed in avalanche
An avalanche in Utah claimed the life of forecaster Craig Patterson on Thursday. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Forecaster killed in avalanche: State avalanche forecaster Craig Patterson was killed Thursday while working on the slopes of the Wasatch mountains east of Salt Lake City, Utah.

AP reports that Patterson's body was recovered early Friday morning and that the forecaster had deployed a special air bag made for skiers, but that Patterson perished in the avalanche regardless of the safety equipment he had on him.

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'Working To Keep People Safe'

This is the first time the Utah Department of Transportation, or UDOT, has lost a member of its backcountry skiing team, commissioned with the task of scouting the mountains for avalanche dangers. The skiers keep motorists safe by preventing avalanches from crossing state roads in the canyons.

According to AP, Patterson, 34, joined UDOT in 2006 and was alone on the slopes Thursday in Big Cottonwood Canyon, a 15-mile-long canyon with two ski resorts, Brighton and Solitude. Avalanche forecaseters like Patterson scour the snow-covered slopes along these canyons looking for signs of avalanche activity and dropping explosives to set off controlled snow slides.

"[Patterson was] a friend, avalanche educator and integral part of Utah avalanche professionals trying to unravel the mysteries of snow and avalanches, and working to keep people safe," Evelyn Lees of the Utah Avalanche Center told the Salt Lake Tribune.

Anatomy Of An Avalanche

Avalanches occur when giant sheets of loose snow separate from a mountainside and begin to race downhill. These waves of snow can move at speeds of up to 80 mph, according to National Geographic. They are most common during and right after heavy snowstorms.

National Geographic reports that in 90 percent of avalanche incidents that involve a person, the snow slide is almost always caused by the person themselves. Avalanches are particularly dangerous to those who get caught in them because when an avalanche stops, the snow it displaces settles like concrete, burying the person underneath. The chances that someone could dig himself out are extremely slim.

According to the Utah Avalanche Center, 64 percent of deaths caused by natural hazards in Utah are the result of an avalanche - followed by lightning and flash floods - and a full two-thirds of avalanche deaths are in the Wasatch region where Patterson himself was killed. The majority of these avalanches are caused by people riding snowmobiles.

The safety gear Patterson was wearing when authorities discovered his body is a special air bag for skiers, usually built into backpacks, which can cost between $600 and $1,000. First developed in Europe, they are designed to keep skiers afloat during an avalanche. Skiers, however, are still vulnerable to hitting rocks and trees.

As AP points out, details of how exactly Patterson died are not apparent.

The tragedy of the forecaster killed in an avalanche in Utah highlights the often-unpredictable nature of snow territory as well as the need for preventative measures to identify and prevent dangerous avalanches.

Read more from iScience Times:

Dutch Prince Coma: Johan Friso Shows 'Minimal Consciousness' After Avalanche; Wife Princess Mabel Releases Statement

An Avalanche of Planning for Multi-national Arctic Field Campaigns

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