Editorial: Despite low snow totals, avalanche danger requires caution
It would be easy to assume that the low snow totals this winter have significantly decreased the avalanche risk in the Wasatch Back.
But heading out to the backcountry with that presumption could be a recipe for disaster. The truth, avalanche experts say, is quite the opposite. On Wednesday, for instance, the Utah Avalanche Center rated the danger in the Uintas as moderate, adding that, “Once triggered, today’s avalanches can quickly get out of hand if they break into weak layers of snow now buried several feet deep in our snowpack.”
There haven’t been any avalanche deaths so far this winter, but forecasters say that’s been a result of luck as much as anything, as there have been a number of close calls, including a partial burial of a skier late last month on a ridgeline near the Canyons Village side of Park City Mountain Resort.
Given the elevated risk this year, particularly along north-facing slopes, anyone venturing into the backcountry needs to be as prepared as possible. That includes carrying the proper equipment at all times and becoming educated about avalanches, risk factors specific to where and when one is recreating and how to react if caught in a slide.
Fortunately, there are no shortage of resources for people looking to enjoy the backcountry safely. The Utah Avalanche Center’s website, for one, is a necessity, providing up-to-date risk advisories along with a litany of educational information and safety tips.
The center also offers a number of classes throughout the winter aimed at arming attendees with knowledge and skills that could save their lives in an avalanche. The next such class is scheduled for Tuesday, from 6 to 9 p.m. in Kamas, and will educate participants about how to rescue a companion who’s been trapped in a slide. White Pine Touring and The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education are putting on a similar, all-day course Thursday. Both are designed for people who are inexperienced in the backcountry, as well as veterans in need of a refresher.
Hopefully, the efforts will help us finish the winter without an avalanche fatality for the second year in a row. That would be a major accomplishment after previously not recording such a season for nearly 30 years.
To get there may take a little more luck — but more importantly, it will require preparation and caution among everyone venturing out to the backcountry.
For more information about avalanche classes, educational material or up-to-date information about the risk of slides, visit utahavalanchecenter.org. Call 435-649-8710 or visit utahavalanchecenter.org for information about the White Pine Touring class.
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