Avalanche risk remains high despite little snow
December 27, 2011
The Utah Avalanche Center is warning backcountry skiers and snowboarders that, even though there is not much snow, avalanches are still possible in the backcountry.
According to Craig Robinson, the avalanche center’s forecaster for the western Uinta Mountains, winters with inconsistent snowfall are the most dangerous.
"It is counterintuitive," he said. "People think that because there hasn’t been a lot of heavy snowfall there is no risk. But that is the opposite. In fact, right now are some of the most dangerous conditions."
The snow that is in the backcountry outside of the resorts is weak and ‘sugary,’ according to Gordon. When fresh snow falls, the bottom layer will be unstable and possibly slide due to the weight of the new snow.
"Early on, the ski season started with a tragic avalanche," Gordon said, referring to the slide at Snowbird Resort that killed skier Matthew Pierre. "Since then, we have had a number of close calls in late November as the snowpack rotted away. We have all the components for a widespread avalanche-cycle we are just missing the key ingredient, new snow."
If a snowstorm comes, especially one with high winds, Gordon said backcountry skiers will need to be extra cautious.
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"The next storm we are tracking looks like it will hit north of the central Wasatch Mountains," he said. "If people are going to try to get some riding in, they should avoid north-facing slopes and try to stay on terrain that is on a low angle and does not have any steep terrain above or adjacent to it."
Gordon added that conditions can change at any moment so before people go skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling, outside of resorts’ boundaries they should check the Utah Avalanche Center’s website or call for updates.
"If the wind suddenly picks up or the temperature changes then the equation is different just like that, so it is very important that people are up-to-date on the conditions," he said.
Current avalanche conditions can be found at http://www.utahavalanchecenter.org or by calling (888) 999-4019.