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Snow slides on Square Top

Patrick ParkinsonOf the Record staff

Avalanche forecasters were on alert this week after a slide Wednesday in the Snyderville Basin took out a chunk of snow on Square Top peak.

The avalanche was triggered by a skier at an elevation of roughly 9,600 feet, a report from the Utah Avalanche Center states.

The slide occurred in soft-slab snow near the Park City ridge, said Drew Hardesty, a Utah Avalanche Center forecaster.

"Square Top has the perfect steepness for avalanches," Hardesty said in a telephone interview Thursday. "It has no trees and it’s around 38 to 40 degrees, which is prime time. Most of it is just a rocky slab."

But Square Top is popular among skiers and snowboarders.

"It’s a great pitch. It’s easy to access. But it has been the site of a number of fatalities over the years," Hardesty said. "Square Top is notorious for wind loading from the westerly winds, and just holding weak snow."

This year, many areas are prone to slides because of thin snow pack, he explained.

"It’s really something. Just by comparison, we have 40 to 50 inches on the ground right now. And maybe seven years ago, we had 80 inches on the ground by Nov. 1," Hardesty said. "We’re talking, historically, some of the thinnest, weakest snow packs we’ve had ever, which is leading to some very unusual, very tricky conditions, conditions that even catch professional and very experienced people."

One of the most experienced backcountry travelers he knows triggered an avalanche Wednesday at about 4 p.m. on West Desolation Ridge near The Canyons, Hardesty said.

The avalanche was about 20 inches deep and 175 feet wide. It slid roughly 600 vertical feet.

"This snow is weak snow," Hardesty said.

Skiers and snowboarders shouldn’t be tricked by avalanche danger ratings that are "moderate," he said.

"By and large, when most people see moderate, they think it’s good to go, it’s not that bad," Hardesty said. "But these are what we call persistent instabilities. They won’t go away any time soon."

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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