Scott Bradley Pehrson, age 39 of Monticello, was caught in a slide while snowmobiling at a popular site in Dark Canyon Basin about 4:30 p.m. on Friday. His body was not recovered until about 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, after the area had been carefully checked to avoid the risk of additional avalanches.
Pehrson was with a group of eight Monticello-area residents who were snowmobiling in the area. The riders report that he may have not been aware of the slide until he was hit by the massive avalanche. It is estimated that the snow is 65 feet deep in areas of the slide zone.
The group frantically searched for the missing man until dark on Friday evening. They were able to locate the destroyed snowmobile and a damaged helmet, but did not find Pehrson.
On Saturday morning, a small army of professionals and volunteers arrived to search. They were under the direction of San Juan County Sheriff Jason Torgerson and Emergency Services Director Kelly Pehrson.
La Sal Elementary School was used to station the helicopters. The second Dark Canyon parking lot, north of Old La Sal, was established as the command post and communication center.
Helicopter crews arrived from Classic Air, Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, Powderbird, and the Utah Department of Public Service (DPS) to search from the air. In addition, the Powderbird crews were able to trigger an additional avalanche in order to make the area safe for crews to begin the ground search.
The DPS helicopter detected a signal from Pehrson’s beacon. When ground crews were able to safely access the site on Saturday afternoon, they began the search near the beacon signal.
Two highly trained search dogs from Powderbird also signaled at the location, which was near the last known location of Pehrson.
The body was recovered several feet under the surface. Sheriff Torgerson reports that the body was “quite a bit upstream from where the snowmobile was recovered.”
The body has been sent to the medical examiner.
Pehrson is survived by his wife Lashaye, four children, four siblings, parents Scott and Colleen Pehrson and a large extended group of grieving family and friends.
Sheriff Torgerson offered his condolences to the family, adding, “It hits a community hard when something like this happens.”
Torgerson praised the San Juan County Search and Rescue crews and the small army of volunteers “who showed up to help us out and do whatever they could to help.”
Approximately 65 San Juan and Grand county residents were on site to volunteer for the search and rescue effort, with an estimated three dozen snow machines.
Torgerson also expressed appreciation to Grand County and the other agencies who offered assistance, including Classic Air, DPS, Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, and Powderbird.
In February, 2002, four people were killed in an avalanche in another area of the La Sal Mountains. That event led to the creation of a local office of the Utah Avalanche Center. The local avalanche center has been warning of dangerous avalanche conditions after recent storms.