Backcountry travelers need to bone up on avalanche safety |

Backcountry travelers need to bone up on avalanche safety


Those patient enough to wait for the local resorts to open were rewarded Friday with balmy skies and groomed runs. But not everyone is so patient. Skiers have already been trailblazing into the backcountry and unfortunately some have run into trouble with a capital ‘A.’ Tuesday three skiers were caught in an avalanche in the Silver Fork area of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Two were able to free themselves and, thanks to their beacons and probe poles, they were able to successfully rescue their companion who was fully buried. Wednesday another skier triggered a slide on Little Superior, but was able to ski away from it.

The fact that avalanches have already made headlines this season is as unsettling as the snowpack and it underscores the importance of making sure residents and visitors who plan to venture outside of the resorts’ boundaries are prepared to be responsible for their own safety.

Summit County Search and Rescue is predicting a busy season based on increased traffic both motorized and unmotorized in the backcountry. But the volunteer organization’s budget is already strapped and every rescue requires hundreds of man (and search dog) hours, often in brutal weather conditions.

It is, therefore, imperative that skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers and hikers who plan to veer off the beaten path this winter equip and educate themselves so that they can be responsible for their own safety.

All of Utah’s ski areas have made snow safety a priority so their guests can be assured that the slopes are stable and well marked. When accidents do happen within the resorts’ boundaries, patrollers are standing by to pick up the pieces and administer preliminary care and immediate transport to medical facilities.

The ski areas have also been very generous with manpower and expertise when backcountry travelers become lost, injured or caught in snowslides even though it is not their job.

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Those who prefer the adventure of exploring the backcountry in winter conditions must be prepared to rescue themselves and each other. Now, as the season is just getting underway, is a perfect time to assemble the right equipment, install fresh batteries in last year’s beacons and practice a few backyard snow pit searches.

Many local ski shops and touring centers are also offering classes in avalanche safety. For more information, log on to the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center’s Web site,