Roof avalanche off cabin killed Utah man, but it’s ‘completely preventable,’ says expert

Apr 20, 2023, 7:00 PM | Updated: 8:57 pm

The roof of the Rising Ridge Recovery Center in Cache Valley collapsed Thursday afternoon. Last month, a portion of the roof collapsed over the pool area. Thursday's collapse occurred in the main lobby. Photo credit: Shane Branz

SALT LAKE CITY — Ryan Peterson, 50, was found deceased Wednesday morning after being buried by a snow avalanche from a cabin roof near Brighton.

Person killed in a roof avalanche near Brighton

“We believe he had attempted to clear snow from the roof and came down with the snow,” Unified Police Department Sgt. Melody Cutler wrote via text. “Officers were able to see a portion of his boot and an arm.”

Dan Knopp, the mayor of Brighton, said there was about 8 feet of snow on the roof of a cabin in Silver Fork.

“If the roof hasn’t collapsed at this point. If it doesn’t snow anymore, it’s almost safer just to let the snow melt naturally and release naturally,” he said.

Snow weighs about 5 pounds per square foot, 12 inches deep, depending on water content. About 12 inches of snow equal 1 inch of rain; a cubic foot of water weighs 62.4 pounds; divide by 12 (1 inch) and you get a shade over 5 pounds per square foot of rain, 1 inch deep, according to Deseret News.

“He [Knopp] said that when you were hiring somebody, it was $30 an hour to get somebody to help get that snow off your roof,” Dave said. “But it ended up being so dangerous, they had to have one of those cherry pickers and then throw a harness onto the person in case there’s a slide that it would just catch the shoveler, so to speak. It went from $30 an hour to $100 an hour to clear off this snow.”

Ask the expert

Mindy Dahlquist, who is a business development manager for TRA Snow & Sun of American Fork, which engineers snow retention systems for all types of roofs, joins Dave & Dujanovic.

“Mostly our main focus is on preventing these types of tragedies. It happens way more often than you would ever want to know about, and it’s definitely something that is completely preventable,” she said.

Dahlquist added that roof collapses often happen on homes built before the mid-1970s.

“There was a lot of codes and standards that just did not come into play at that time. And we oftentimes built structures the same in the valley as we did in the mountains; sometimes using stick framing, rather than trusses,” she said.

Dahlquist said the roof of an attached garage can pull the roof of the house down with it.

“A lot of these garages were built with the thought of it’s just holding your vehicle. It’s not needing to hold a lot of weight. No one’s going to be up there doing anything wild and crazy. And so we’ll just put some stick framing throughout these structures. It was just the way things were built 50 plus years ago,” she said.

Armed with today’s technology, architects and contractors are engineering much stronger, sounder roofs, Dahlquist said.

Stay off the roof

Dahlquist stressed: Do not climb on your roof, adding, even professionals die climbing on roofs.

If you hear your roof creaking under a load of snow, call a structural engineer, she advised. 

Also contact a structural engineer if you own an order attached garage.

Dahlquist said she is hosting a webinar on April 25 at 10 a.m. 

“It’s going to be specifically focused around structures, the differences between European structures and US structures and how they handle snow, snow slide-off and all the different things that come with that the dangers and the different types of solutions as well,” she said.

To find out more, follow this link:

Related news:

Shovel the roof? Most homes handle the snow just fine


Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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Roof avalanche off cabin killed Utah man, but it’s ‘completely preventable,’ says expert