SANDY, Utah (AP) — Search crews on Friday recovered the bodies of two backcountry skiers who were swept away and buried by an avalanche in the mountains outside Salt Lake City a day earlier, and they were brought off the mountain via helicopter, officials said.

The men, ages 23 and 32, were killed in the snowslide Thursday morning in the area of Lone Peak in the Wasatch Range southeast of the city, officials. Storms in the previous three days brought up to 2.5 feet (76 centimeters) of heavy, wet snow and strong winds to the area.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera says search teams uncovered the men’s bodies Friday morning. The bodies were brought off the mountain via helicopter and taken to the medical examiner’s office, Sgt. Aymee Race with the Unified Police Salt Lake City said.

Three men were climbing up a ridge on a slope called Big Willow Aprons and were near the top when the slide was unintentionally triggered, the Utah Avalanche Center said.

The first climber was carried downhill on the right side of the ridge and partially buried. The other two were swept away on the left side of the ridge and buried, the center said in its report.

The first climber was able to dig himself out and call for help. He was rescued by mid-day Thursday, but the weather conditions prevented the recovery of the other two men.

Family members of the two victims were at the search staging area near Sandy on Friday, Rivera said.

The snow broke about 2 feet (61 centimeters) deep and 250 feet (76 meter) across and slid down about 500 feet (152 meters), the avalanche center said.

The area where the avalanche occurred, Lone Peak, is one of the highest peaks in the Wasatch Range towering over Utah’s capital city. Its steep, rugged terrain makes it a popular destination for advanced backcountry skiers, and experienced climbers can be found scaling its sheer granite walls in the warmer months.

“This is very serious terrain. It’s steep. It’s north-facing. The crew that was up there would have to be experienced,” Craig Gordon with the Utah Avalanche Center said Thursday.

Rivera confirmed the men were experience skiers.

The deaths bring this winter’s tally of avalanche deaths in the U.S. to 15, according to the Utah Avalanche Information Center, which tracks avalanche deaths. An average of 30 people die in avalanches each year in the U.S.


Hanson reported from Helena, Montana.

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