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Blizzard waylays ultramarathoners; all rescued safely

By Mark Shenefelt - | Oct 11, 2021

Photo supplied, Davis County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue

This image from video shows Davis County Sheriff's Search and Rescue volunteers rescuing ultramarathoners on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in a snowstorm in Farmington Canyon.

FARMINGTON — Nearly 90 ultramarathon runners are safe after search and rescue crews retrieved them from a white-out snowstorm in the Davis County mountains on Saturday.

Over a nearly six-hour period, police and fire first responders and Davis County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue volunteers combed the race course on foot and with trucks and snowmobiles, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

Authorities got a call at about 9:30 a.m. that dozens of runners were on the course of the DC Peaks 50-kilometer race, hampered by the blizzard conditions. Race organizers and sheriff’s deputies at a command post organized the rescue, and by 2:45 p.m., all runners were accounted for and safe, the release said.

“My pager goes off, and it’s usually a couple of lost hikers,” Davis County Sheriff Kelly Sparks said Monday. “When I saw that 87 people were lost, I was taken aback.”

Farmington and South Davis firefighters staged at the base of the canyon to help the runners. A few marathoners had hypothermia and one suffered a minor injury in a fall. Sparks said the injured runner was helped by several fellow participants. “They stayed with him and kept him going along, which made the outcome for him much better,” Sparks said.

Runners were strung along the mountaintops, including 9,500-foot Francis Peak and Thurston Peak, about 9,700 feet above sea level, Sparks said. “There were a few in light jackets, but the majority were in running gear, shorts and T-shirts.”

In the lower elevations, it was raining. But at the ridge tops, a foot of snow, high winds and freezing temperatures made it a dangerous situation, the sheriff said. “I am glad the race organizers realized what they were into and gave us a call,” he said.

“Venturing onto the mountains, trails, and bodies of water at this time of year can be dangerous because the weather changes rapidly and conditions can quickly become life threatening,” Sparks said in the release Saturday. “Even a mild rain in the valley can translate to blizzard conditions at higher elevations.”

The sheriff said Monday more than two dozen volunteers participated in the rescue. “I am so thankful for our search and rescue volunteers,” Sparks said. “They are willing to hazard those conditions and work all year to be prepared.”

Sparks said his office is not contemplating billing those rescued for the costs expended Saturday. “We incurred some costs, but our search and rescue is all volunteers,” he said. “We don’t bill for search and rescue and never have.”

Utah state law offers a search and rescue assistance card. Someone who buys a card is not subject to billing for a rescue unless county authorities find that those rescued acted recklessly.

Ultramarathons are foot races of 50 kilometers or more.

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