Why are the number of Utah avalanches spiking?

Mar 29, 2023, 9:30 PM | Updated: Mar 30, 2023, 9:57 am

Avalanche danger is considerable in the Northern Mountains today....

Dave & Dujanovic discuss why there havce been so many avalanches in Utah. Photo credit: Summit County Sheriff's Office, file.

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s normal for Utah to have several avalanches each year. However, this year there is something different, the avalanches seem to be more intense, and there’s a lot more.

Craig Gordan, of the Utah Avalanche Center, joins Dave & Dujanovic with hosts Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic to discuss what to expect before heading out into the great outdoors. Sgt. Spencer Cannon, of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, also joins the snow to discuss how forceful avalanches can be.

Noriega and Dujanovic mention the state had 150 avalanches last March. This March, that number topped 250.

Noriega asked Gordan, “Is it just the sheer enormity of the snow that we have that’s causing more avalanches this year?”

“You totally nailed it,” Gordan said. “With more snow, I mean, that simply means more avalanches. And, you know, this is pretty much a statewide thing that is going on.”

Mountains need a break 

Gordan says the storms have been coming pretty regularly. And as a result, the mountains haven’t been able to get a break. He said in a seven-day period last week, the mountains got 40 to 60 inches of snow.

“And you know the mountains are just saying, ‘hey, we need a break,'” he said. “The snowpack needs a little bit of time to adjust and that’s why we’re seeing so many avalanches statewide.”

Dujanovic asked if machines or back-country skiers posed a bigger danger risk in the backcountry.

“They’re both a problem,” he said. “Avalanches don’t discriminate and no matter how we’re traveling, we’re skiing, we’re boarding, we’re snowmobiling, we’re snowshoeing, we’re even extreme snow angeling out there. I mean avalanches don’t know the difference of that and they don’t know the difference if we’re a beginner, an intermediate or an expert.”

With another storm expected in Utah on Thursday, Gordan says to be plan ahead if you are heading outdoors.

“This is the gift that keeps giving,” he said. “But no matter how you’re headed out on the snow, definitely be informed, be prepared and be armed with the latest avalanche forecast for the zone you plan to travel in.”

How forceful are avalanches in Utah?

Cannon tells Dave & Dujanovic that an avalanche can look white, soft and fluffy in a video. However, that is not the case.

“What people need to understand is that this turns into cement-like tightness,” he said.

Cannon says the snowmobiler who died in an avalanche earlier this week in Utah County was trapped 22 feet under the surface.

“When you’re 22 feet below the surface, there is very little that can be done to save somebody,” Cannon said.  

Cannon says the snow is rock-solid when a person gets caught up in it. 

“And that’s why they’re so deadly,” he said.


Dave & Dujanovic can be heard on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

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Why are the number of Utah avalanches spiking?