Record editorial: Recent avalanches are a call to action — let’s stay safe in the backcountry
For nearly three years starting in January of 2016, there was not a single avalanche death in Utah.
That fortunate run ended last season, when avalanches claimed four lives in Utah’s backcountry, including one fatality in eastern Summit County.
It did not take long for hopes of starting a new streak this season to be tragically dashed, as a 45-year-old man from Salt Lake City died earlier this month after leaving the boundaries of Park City Mountain Resort and triggering a slide in a steep, avalanche-prone area that was also the site of fatalities in 2005 and 2012.
Word spread quickly through Utah’s backcountry community, and news outlets across the state, including The Park Record, reported on the fatality, quoting avalanche safety experts who urged others to exercise an abundance of caution in the backcountry, particularly when conditions make slides more likely.
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Given the clear threat in the area, it was disconcerting when, just two days later, a skier using a snow kite set off an avalanche at the site, known as Dutch Draw. And on Wednesday, a dramatic video made the rounds on Facebook showing yet another slide on the slope, this time triggered by a snowboarder.
The fatality and the two subsequent avalanches — neither of which harmed anyone, fortunately — are glaring reminders of the danger that is ever present in the backcountry. Hopefully, they will serve as a call to action, spurring other backcountry users to take the appropriate safety measures every time they venture beyond the borders of a ski resort.
First and foremost, recreaters must equip themselves with knowledge before they ever click into skis or strap into a snowboard. That begins with taking avalanche safety courses — the Utah Avalanche Center offers several for free throughout the year — to learn the basics like how to steer clear of high-risk areas and what to do if a slide occurs. Monitoring daily conditions is also critical; after all, the smartest decision a backcountry user can make is to avoid dangerous areas in the first place.
Skiers and snowboarders should also carry the appropriate gear with them, such as a shovel, probe and avalanche beacon. Even seasoned backcountry users make mistakes — but ones who’ve made the proper preparations are better able to act quickly and give themselves a chance to avert catastrophe.
If everyone heading into the mountains adopts that strategy, hopefully we can get through the rest of the ski season without another tragedy and begin a new streak for safety in the backcountry.
Information about avalanche safety and current conditions can be found at the Utah Avalanche Center’s website, utahavalanchecenter.org.
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