Avalanche danger increases with new snow
Outside the boundaries of its three ski areas there was considerable avalanche danger in Summit County on New Year’s Day after heavy snow fell this week on weak, unstable layers.
Winds may increase the danger this weekend and slide forecasters say steep slopes should be avoided by backcountry enthusiasts who are not experienced at identifying fresh drifts.
"Unless people have solid avalanche skills, it’s a time when you can still get your freshies by riding in the resorts or sticking to lower-angled terrain, because the snow is nice and light and fluffy right now," avalanche forecaster Craig Gordon said.
When avalanche danger is considerable human-triggered slides are probable, he said.
"We expect denser snow throughout the weekend so that might keep things at an elevated danger level for the next couple days," Gordon said in a telephone interview. "Avalanche conditions could get trickier, especially if the forecasted storms verify and we put some heavier snow on top of this lighter snow."
The Utah Avalanche Center issued a warning this week for the Uinta and Wasatch Mountains after a 200-foot-wide avalanche near South Monitor peak in the Park City area slid about 400 feet. The slide occurred Wednesday near White Pine Canyon at about 12:30 p.m.
A skier triggered the avalanche at about 9,800 feet in a soft snow slab from about 20 feet away.
"We were trying to approach the cornice to cut it down slope, and when we reached the edge we saw that the slope had already avalanched," a report at utahavalanchecenter.org states.
Nobody was injured in the slide.
"We’ve got to think about not only the snow we are riding in, but the snow we are riding on," Gordon said. "In the past couple weeks, we’ve had clear, cold conditions and that’s weakened the surface snow substantially. We’re going to start to overload some of those weak surface areas."
He stressed that "considerable" avalanche danger is just one notch below "high."
"You have unmanageable conditions in areas where the snow pack remains shallow and weak," Gordon said. "If you trigger an avalanche which breaks into weak layers of snow near the ground, it’s going to involve the entire season’s snow pack rather than just the recent storms."
Meanwhile, before entering the backcountry have snow-safety equipment and know how it is used, said John Brooks, manager of White Pine Touring in Park City.
"We’re pretty stern about letting the customer know that if you are going into the backcountry, first you need to have knowledge," Brooks said. "It’s not something to go in half-hearted."
Those unwilling to pay a few hundred dollars for an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel, should not ski, snowmobile or snowboard in the backcountry, he explained.
"Don’t go. Don’t put your buddy in danger," Brooks said. "You have to be as prepared as your buddy and if you’re the one without a transceiver your buddy should not go with you."
Avalanches can kill even the most experienced backcountry enthusiasts, he said.
"You can know the terrain here. You can know snow science. But there is still that x factor that something could happen," Brooks said. "Sometimes when the terrain is pretty unsafe and people come in and want to rent ski and skins, we quiz them pretty hard about where they are going because we don’t want anybody to die out there."
The Utah Avalanche Center and ski patrollers at The Canyons will host a free awareness talk at Treasure Mountain International School Jan. 8 at 6:30 p.m. Avalanche Center Director Bruce Tremper will discuss avalanche science.
"Take a class. Come in and talk to us. Pay attention to the avalanche forecast because knowledge is the key," Brooks said.
The Utah Avalanche Center forecasts slide advisories daily for the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains at (888) 999-4019 or http://www.utahavalanchecenter.org.
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.