What you need to know about avalanche safety in Utah

Dec 14, 2022, 7:30 PM | Updated: Dec 28, 2022, 8:46 am
Avalanche risk high...
Credit: Utah Avalanche Center. A recent photo of a large, destructive avalanche.

SALT LAKE CITY —  Utah has seen many avalanches this season, two of them have been in the past two days. Typically, when thinking of avalanches we think of them happening in the high back country. But the most recent ones have been at a lower elevation, which brings it uncomfortably close to home. 

“Right now we are seeing especially dangerous conditions in northwest through east facing aspects.” said Nikki Champion, an avalanche forecaster for the Utah Avalanche Center. “We are seeing especially touchy conditions at those low and mid elevations.”

With this most recent storm, there has been an equal amount of snowfall at all elevations. That is why avalanches are happening at the lower to mid-elevations too. 

The perfect storm for avalanches

This season has been the perfect storm for avalanches. Utah had its first snowfall in late October followed by a few weeks of clear weather causing the snowpack to weaken. Then it started snowing last week, and it hasn’t slowed down. This caused a heavy snowpack on top of weak snow. 

A few more things are necessary for an avalanche to occur. They include a weak layer of snow, a slab on top of that, a slope greater than 30 degrees, and finally a trigger. A trigger can be an extra inch of snowfall to vibration from a snowmobile; anything that moves a slab of snow off of a slick and weak layer of snow. 

Champion told KSL NewsRadio to check the avalanche report every morning before going out.

“We are going to let you know what aspects and elevations we’re expecting to see avalanche dangers,” she said.

How to stay safe in avalanche country

Skiers, boarders, hikers, snowmobilers, and others should keep an eye on the terrain they’re traveling, Champion said. Also, it’s important to stay off of steep slopes, and to refrain from hiking or snowshoeing below a 30-degree slope.  

Stay aware in or around the mountains when skiing, hiking, or doing any sort of activity. Check for cracks in the snow or audible sounds of snow moving or sliding, especially in Utah’s lower elevations right now.  

And Champion said it’s important to have a few things when heading out into the greatest snow on earth.

“Whenever going in the backcountry take the three essential things: a beacon, shovel, probe, and a partner,” said Champion, “and make sure you have the proper training, so you know how to use the gear before an accident happens.”

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What you need to know about avalanche safety in Utah