Venturing into the backcountry is thrilling but dangerous
The thrill of acres upon acres of untracked powder.
Just you, your pals and the mountains.
Backcountry skiing and snowboarding are alluring both to people who live in the shadows of the mountains and those who visit the area.
But the backcountry can be perilous for the expert and the novice, the knowledgeable and the ignorant alike.
The Park City area is busy this week with people from outside the state, perhaps not the sort of skiers and snowboarders who would head into the backcountry in large numbers. There will also be crowds of local thrill-seekers on the slopes.
As it tears down a mountain, an avalanche will not discriminate between the skilled and the unskilled, or whether someone resides in a certain ZIP code. It is critical for people who are heading into the backcountry, even if the terrain sits just outside the boundaries of a resort, to understand the dangers.
Just days ago, a snowboarder triggered an avalanche in the backcountry in the Park City area. Nobody was caught in the slide, but it could have been devastating had someone been engulfed in the snow.
Meanwhile, the Utah Avalanche Center, which compiles a list of slides, reported two snowmobiler-caused avalanches in the Uinta Mountains as Christmas approached. The Uintas are a popular recreation spot east of Park City. One of the slides measured 500 feet wide, 300 feet long and three feet deep, according to the organization. Other avalanches were reported in the region in the days before the holiday.
The danger is expected to increase as a snowstorm was forecast to hit the Wasatch Mountains. The fresh snow in the backcountry that was predicted would be alluring, no doubt. But new snow on top of old snow can be a deadly combination.
If you must make first tracks in the backcountry, please be cautious and prepared. Go with someone else, outfit yourself with an avalanche beacon, and know how to use it, and bring rescue equipment like a shovel and a probe.
And before heading out, learn about the avalanche conditions. The Utah Avalanche Center website is a critical resource, providing information about danger levels and weather forecasts. The website address is utahavalanchecenter.org. The center also operates an advisory hotline, 1-888-999-4019.
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