Utah avalanche danger: What causes an avalanche?

Dec 15, 2022, 3:00 PM

utah avalanche center photo of someone on a slope...

Utah Avalanche Center forecasters are advising safety on the slopes.(Utah Avalanche Center)

(Utah Avalanche Center)

SALT LAKE CITY — On the heels of an avalanche in Neffs Canyon, avalanche danger is still considerable in the backcountry up and down Utah. It could take some time for conditions to change.

“Sometimes it takes days, weeks, maybe even months,” said Craig Gordon, an avalanche forecaster with the Utah Avalanche Center.

Gordon told KSL NewsRadio that the early snow we got in the fall weakened during a dry spell in November. That weak base is now topped with several feet of fresh powder, which makes a strong recipe for avalanches.

With winter enthusiasts anxious to take advantage of so much new snow, the question now is, when will avalanche danger decrease? And what will make that happen?

The answer is more snow. Gordon said continued snowfall helps create pressure and compression in the layers, which firms up the weak base.

“Over time those insulating layers add weight and they change the structure of that weak layer that we’re dealing with…it crushes it into submission,” Gordon said.

The problem, however, is that, according to Gordon, we are not close to that turning point.

Gordon said we also need temperatures to change gradually over time, rather than abruptly. 

For now, back country-goers should stick to low-angle terrain. Gordon said to completely avoid steep slopes, whether they’re on, under or adjacent to them. But, people don’t need to avoid the slopes altogether.

“We’ve got to respect the mountains and we definitely have to exercise some patience,” Gordon said.


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Utah avalanche danger: What causes an avalanche?