Forecasters warn avalanches possible this New Year

Dec 31, 2021, 11:46 AM | Updated: 7:27 pm

Avalanche risk high...

Credit: Utah Avalanche Center. A recent photo of a large, destructive avalanche.

SANDY, Utah — Avalanches in the backcountry are a serious concern as we ring in 2022, according to forecasters with the Utah Avalanche Center. 

Avalanche conditions in the backcountry

Forecasters worry that this weekend will usher in avalanches. They say weather conditions are creating the perfect circumstances for danger, and that many snow lovers will be enticed into dangerous situations because of the sunny skies. 

Snow, wind and a weak underlayer

The past few days have brought several feet of the white stuff up to the mountains. On top of that, hurricane-force winds have piled up the snow into huge slabs of snow into drifts that lay on top of a weak layer of snow. 

Forecaster Greg Gagne with the Utah Avalanche Center says, “The Cottonwoods have received roughly six to eight inches of water weight,” which he says is like building a new house on top of sand.

Several huge, destructive avalanches have already been triggered in these mountains, further burying this weak layer of snow, forecasters say.  Gagne estimates there have been over 100 avalanches since December 9th, and many of those have been “sympathetic avalanches,” which means the force of one slide was strong enough to trigger another.

Recent close calls

Forecasters say we’ve had too many close calls lately, and avalanches are now starting to be less predictable, becoming triggered in surprising ways.  Gagne says skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers need to know which parts of the back country to avoid.

“Stay off those northerly facing slopes steeper than 30 degrees,” he says.

Plus, he recommends people recreate in flat meadows as much as they can.

Gagne says, “Two weeks ago, they were full of sagebrush.  Now, they have several feet of snow on top of them.  The cold weather we’ve had and consistent snowfall has made for light, fluffy snow everywhere.”

Avalanches are hitting other states

Over the holidays, some deadly avalanches hit Idaho, Colorado, Montana and Washington. 

Know before you go: Preventing avalanches

Forecasters predict that many skiers will be hitting the slopes this weekend with sunny weather on the way.

Not only is a slide highly dangerous for anyone involved, but it can also take out the entire season’s snowpack in the area. 

Tips from the Utah Avalanche Center 

  • Carefully examine the snowpack, choose your route, and stay on the conservative side.
  • Avoid traveling on north-facing slopes or anything steeper than 30 degrees
  • Make sure you and everyone in your group wears and can use an avalanche shovel, probe, and transceiver. 
  • Learn to recognize terrain that’s susceptible to avalanches. 

Check out the Utah Avalanche Center website for more tips and a terrain map. 

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Forecasters warn avalanches possible this New Year