Honestly I really do not know if he never saw it coming, but these things happen very fast. And despite the danger, what happened to this Utah Avalanche Forecaster was a very rare event. He was killed on the job last week. By an avalanche. 34 Year old Craig Patterson was a seven-year veteran of avalanche forecasting for the Utah Department of Transportation. He failed to return last Thursday from a solo trek gauging snow conditions on a mountain slope outside Salt Lake City. A helicopter spotted his body amid avalanche debris.

He was the 16th person killed by an avalanche in the US this year.

The spotting, monitoring and managing of avalanche threats is a big responsibility in the Rocky Mountains. Tons of snow can break loose from steep hillsides, and with lightning speed destroy everything in its path.  While Avalanche Forecasters clearly have risk in their job, many flatlanders would be surprised to know that snowplow drivers most often fall prey to the wrath of these relatively silent killers. They are often sent into mountain overpasses when the snow is fresh and unstable, and the loud sounds their trucks make can easily trigger a slide. I recall as a child growing up in Southwest Colorado when a state plow driver was swept to his death one winter off Red Mountain Pass, a treacherous stretch of road between Silverton and Ouray. They didn't find his body, or even his truck for that matter, until spring.

Interestingly, technology has made forecasting much safer for those who do the job today. Patterson was wearing an avalanche air bag, which is designed to help avalanche victims ride near the top of the slide activity. It had deployed. He also carried an AvaLung, which provides oxygen when buried in the snow. Many people buried in the snow become quickly disoriented, and, if they can move at all, dig the wrong way in an attempt to get out. Oxygen deprivation is a very real threat.

Despite the added safety measures, there is no getting around the fact that an avalanche is a powerful and violent occurrence. The threat of fatal injury clearly remains strong. That point is driven home even more when we realize that our forecasters are clearly not clairvoyants.

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