Avalanche season underway Patrick Parkinson Of the Record staff | ParkRecord.com
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Avalanche season underway Patrick Parkinson Of the Record staff

Patrick Parkinson Of the Record staff

Avalanche forecasters don’t expect snow that fell Tuesday in Summit County to contribute drastically to slide danger in the area.

"I don’t think it’s going to change things too much because it’s pretty light-density snow," said Bruce Tremper, director of the U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center. "The snow we had a few days ago, it was fast and furious and it was dense, heavy snow it’s had a few days to adjust to its load."

Four Salt Lake County residents with decades of backcountry experience, who chose to ski too steep of a slope in the No Name Bowl between Park City Mountain Resort and The Canyons, triggered a large avalanche Saturday in western Summit County, Tremper said. "You have to be very selective about where you go," he said, adding that moderate avalanche danger is expected for the rest of the week. "Snow is just like people, it doesn’t like rapid changes. If we get two feet of snow and the wind blows, then we’ll be back to where we started." He reminds skiers and snowboarders that northeast facing slopes steeper than 30 degrees should be avoided during times of elevated avalanche risk, he added.

"[No Name Bowl] is notoriously avalanche prone because of all those factors," Tremper said, adding that the northeast-facing hill, with its thin snow layers and heavy wind drifts, has a 38-degree slope. "Which is the bull’s-eye for slope steepness."

Clear skies contribute to unstable, faceted snow, and several days of sunshine had primed No Name Bowl for a big avalanche, he said. "A weak layer was created," Tremper said. "Anytime you have a clear sky, that snow surface is getting very weak." He compared the unstable surface snow to potato chips "that have no weight, they are not bonded to each other."

"A slab was formed because this new snow and wind came in," Tremper said. "Mechanically, it’s just like putting a brick down on a pile of potato chips and then tipping it up on edge."

Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds recommends people contact the Utah Avalanche Center before any trip into the backcountry. "It’s frightening," Edmunds said. "If you feel like you don’t have the expertise to traverse into the backcountry, then just don’t."

Summit County made international headlines last January when Sandpoint, Idaho resident Shane Maixner, 27, died in an avalanche in the popular Dutch’s Draw area near The Canyons.

Maixner reportedly entered the backcountry with friends through a gate near the Ninety-nine 90 lift at The Canyons on Jan. 14 around 12:30 p.m. "If you ski outside the resort boundaries, you better know what you’re doing, it’s just that simple," Edmunds said. "We do not want families to be destroyed by people who just didn’t have to die."

Avalanche danger was considerable on Saturday when the group of skiers survived the slide in western Summit County. Salt Lake County resident Roger Arhart triggered Saturday’s avalanche after traveling with three friends into Summit County from a ridge near Big Cottonwood Canyon. They claim they had not been skiing at a resort but were issued misdemeanor trespassing citations by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.

Tremper isn’t sure whether the avalanche occurred on private or public land but said the skiers shouldn’t be charged for trespassing in a National Forest. The slide reportedly occurred on the group’s 10th run through the area. "You’re in an area where avalanche control is not conducted and where avalanches are a real danger not only the first run but perhaps even the 10th run," Edmunds said. "We tell the people that don’t understand backcountry skiing or snowboarding, we tell them, ‘go to the resorts.’" Last season was Utah’s deadliest on record for avalanche deaths and 85 percent of those killed in slides in the state did not consult the avalanche forecast center before their trips, Tremper said. "We’re trying to reach out to those 85 percent," he added. Utah’s avalanche center is the busiest in North America, but unlike Europe, where most deaths occur when danger is considerable, most people die in slides in Utah when danger is high, Tremper said, adding, "when most people know to stay away."

The skiers who survived Saturday’s slide were very fortunate, the sheriff said. "There is a lot of personal responsibility and a lot of personal accountability when it comes to recreating in the backcountry," Edmunds added. "We do not want more people dying." Visit http://www.avalanche.org for updated warnings for the Wasatch and Uinta mountains.


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