Avalanche Forecast Center has made our mountains safer
The Park Record editorial, April 15-18, 2017
April 14, 2017
Call it luck or the result of hard work and dedication. For the first time in more than two decades, the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center reports there were no avalanche-related fatalities in the state this season. That is somewhat of a surprise considering the amount of snow that fell on the northern Wasatch this winter.
Some say the unique statistic is due to the overall stability of the snowpack — lots of heavy snow that bonded well and offered backcountry travelers a relatively wide selection of safe terrain.
Yes, that may have been part of what led to a season free from even one avalanche fatality. But a quick scan of the detailed avalanche information on the UAC website indicates there were at least 400 avalanches (both natural and human-caused) in Utah's mountains this winter. At least 40 people (skiers, snowboarders and hikers) were caught in the snow slides, and a handful were buried, requiring rescue efforts.
So the snow clearly wasn't avalanche proof. The difference, then, must be that Utah's adventurous backcountry travelers are more aware of the dangers and better equipped to surmount them.
Armed with UAC's meticulously collected data, daily avalanche forecasts and proactive awareness efforts, Utah snow lovers today are much safer than their predecessors.
Of course, the winter isn't quite over. Spring snowstorms are to be expected and variable snow conditions can still cause life threatening snow slides.
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But, as the ski resorts close, and many pack their skis up for the summer, it is a good time to recognize the Utah Avalanche Center's vital role in Utah's extraordinary winter season. After countless hours of patrolling our favorite frozen slopes, the staff deserves a warm round of thanks.