Deaths Spark Questions About Extreme Sports

The ski season is now in full swing, and a growing number of enthusiasts are venturing into uncharted territory, trying backcountry skiing and snowmobiling. It can be an exhilarating ride but also a dangerous one, as some people found out in Utah this weekend.

Zachary Eastman, 22, of Salt Lake County, was backcountry skiing with a friend on Friday afternoon when he was caught by an avalanche and killed. His friend managed to escape.

On Saturday, a 42-year-old Utah man died after he was buried in an avalanche while snowmobiling in a remote area. The man was rescued within an hour, but was pronounced dead when he arrived at the hospital. The victim's name has not been released.

In both cases, the trapped men were wearing avalanche beacons -- locator devices to help signal rescuers.

The same day Eastman was killed, Ben Dejong and Trace Workman were snowmobiling when their ride triggered an avalanche, burying Dejong under four feet of snow. Luckily, rescuers pulled out Dejong in about 20 minutes.

"It was dark, I couldn't see anything," said Dejong. "The beacon saved my life."

More Extreme and More Dangerous

With winter sports enthusiasts now drawn to these untouched terrains, mountain rescuers are finding themselves having to save more people from places where they shouldn't have been to begin with.

Nationwide, more than 25 backcountry skiiers are killed by avalanches every year, and snowmobiling is the No. 1 cause of all avalanche deaths.

"It's a combination of things -- heavy snow fall combined with snow we have had," said Darren Hunsaker, a member of the Salt Lake County Search and Rescue squad. "It's all formula for danger."

While extreme snow sports can be a lot of fun, they also raise the question: Is the thrill worth the risks?

Bruce Tremper, the director of the Utah Avalanche Forecast center, joined "Good Morning America" to talk about safety tips for the slopes.

With more people trying extreme sports and more advanced equipment on the market, Tremper says the risks are increasing. "The number of avalanche fatalities go up every year," he said.

But there are ways to decrease the risks. Tremper said everyone who participates in off-the-beaten-path winter sports needs to carry three things -- an electronic avalanche rescue beacon, a shovel and a lightweight aluminum pole to probe into the snow.

Backcountry skiers and snowmobilers should also call the local avalanche rescue squad to let them know where they'll be and always travel with a partner.

Avalanche Warning Signs

Experts say there are signs that should be noted to help avoid avalanche danger areas. They are:

Other snow slides

Cracking or collapsing snow

High winds

Rising temperatures

And keep in mind, 90 percent of all avalanches are triggered by people, so be careful.

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