Shortly before noon on New Year’s Day, 1500 skiers were celebrating the holidays at Alta ski resort. On the opposite side of Rustlers Peak, the eastern side, a group of four skiers were on a cross-country trip in an area seldom used at the time. Fourteen inches of new, heavy snow had fallen during the previous two days. Veteran skiers indicated that they practiced a policy of not traversing a steep slope until the snow had packed. The small group continued their exploration of Alta’s backcountry.
A snow slide began, with witnesses helplessly watching as at least one member of the group tried to ski out of the slide. The slide thundered down the mountain, separating into two sections. Thought to have trapped all of the skiers from the cross country group under 30 to 50 feet of snow, Salt Lake County Commissioner J.B. Mullins immediately ordered a caterpillar tractor, shovels, and 75 men to the search area. The County directed the search.
Volunteers arrived, some led by famous skier Sverre Engen, some from the Salt Lake City Fire Department, and others from Fort Douglas. Trenches 8 to 9 feet deep were dug, and 25 foot long poles were used to probe the snow from the bottom of these trenches. None of the poles came close to touching the ground. Wishing to extend the search throughout the night, Commissioner Mullins ordered a portable power plant and searchlights from the County Fire Department to be transported to the scene. It was finally discovered that the avalanche had trapped and killed only one skier, Kenneth C. Wright.