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Utah Avalanche Center warns about the dangers in the backcountry

An influx of users are expected to flock to the backcountry this year. Avalanche experts warn that users need the proper education and the right equipment before recreating in the backcountry.
Ben Olson/Park Record

As the snow rolls into Park City, so will the skiers and snowboarders. With the coronavirus pandemic limiting indoor activities and Park City Mountain Resort requiring guests to reserve a spot on the slopes in advance, many people are likely to head into the backcountry this winter.

Chad Brackelsberg, executive director of the nonprofit Utah Avalanche Center, issued a warning to those planning to ski or snowboard in the backcountry, however: It is not the same as shredding the slopes within the boundaries of a resort.

“As soon as you exit that gate, there is no avalanche mitigation, there are no ski patrol services, so you are responsible for your own decisions, your own knowledge of avalanches and how to avoid those on your own, and responsible for your rescue whether it’s an avalanche or your own injury,” he said.



One of the biggest concerns in the backcountry is the danger that can arise, especially for inexperienced users, according to Brackelsberg. Inexperience or failing to take the appropriate safety precautions can sometimes even result in fatalities.

Given the danger and the expected increase in backcountry usage, Brackelsberg said the Utah Avalanche Center is making extensive efforts to educate people about the risks this winter.



“We are doing the best we can right now of spreading the word through all of our media channels: social media, our website, reaching out to both print paper and broadcast sources, as well as talking with retail shops to make sure that people are buying backcountry gear and avalanche training,” he said.

To recreate in the backcountry, users need to have the proper gear and equipment in case of an avalanche or an injury, he said.

“So your essential backcountry gear is a transceiver beacon, a shovel and a probe, and then that is what you use if you have an avalanche accident, that is basically what you will use to perform your rescue,” Brackelsberg said.

Besides the essential gear, Brackelsberg also advised backcountry users to carry a first aid kit, warm clothes and even a repair kit in case gear breaks. He also said users should be prepared to potentially spend the night out in the mountains.

Besides obtaining the right gear, Brackelsberg also said it’s important to have the proper education.

“If you’re new to the backcountry, do everything you can to educate yourself,” he said. “Education isn’t something you do once, it’s something you strive for (over) a life … of learning.”

The Know Before You Go program is one education course offered by the Utah Avalanche Center. The program offers six hours of free avalanche education. While normally held in person, this year it is offered online at KBYG.org.

Many other classes can also be found online at utahavalanchecenter.org.

Many retailers or adventure companies, such as White Pine Touring in Park City, also offer classes for backcountry users.

Brackelsberg advised everyone to “sign up soon … because those classes are filling up incredibly quickly.”

Backcountry gear is selling out just as quickly.

“We are hearing from a trade industry group that sells backcountry skis and boots, and they are up 130%,” Brackelsberg said.

Brackelsberg offered one last piece of advice to anyone considering heading into the backcountry this winter.

“Make sure you have the gear, use your gear, practice with it frequently, and consider that traveling the backcountry requires a lot of education, and you can’t go in without it.”


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