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Utah avalanche risk 'considerable'

By | Posted - Feb. 21, 2011 at 11:33 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A statewide avalanche warning is in effect and experts warn skiers and snowmobilers to stay out of the backcountry.

A weekend storm dropped 3-5 feet of new snow in Utah's mountains. Drew Hardesty, a forecaster with the Utah Avalanche Center, says that makes an avalanche inevitable.

"I expect to see a serious accident in the backcountry today," he said. "This is the storm that is going to tip the scales."

We're just waiting for the call to hear that an accident has occurred in the backcountry today.

–Drew Hardesty, Utah Avalanche Center

Forecasters place the risk level at "considerable" for most of northern Utah's mountains and for the western Uinta mountains.

"With the storm tracking off to the east, more people are going to be lured into the backcountry to get that excellent powder. Conditions are going to be very dangerous," Hardesty said.

Austin Cunha is one of those snowboarders who was lured by fresh powder Monday morning. He didn't seem too concerned about the avalanche danger despite the warning. "Powder, that's all I care about," he said.

Karen and Bob Ross flew here from Rhode Island just to get a taste of Utah's famous snow. They were aware of the avalanche warning, and said they'll stick to the marked trails.

"We were here yesterday and they warned us, so I think we're pretty well prepared," Karen Ross said.

Bob Ross added, "It seems like they have it pretty well in hand here and a lot of professionals who know how to deal with it. We appreciate that."

Monday's holiday is bringing many people to the mountains. Hardesty says avalanche control has been done at the resorts so skiers and snowboarders sticking to the trails should be safe.

But he warns if you get tempted to go out of bounds, don't. The risk just isn't worth it.

"Don't go into the backcountry," he said. "If you don't have avalanche education and experience, stick to the inbound or the very low angle slopes, and be aware of what is above you as well."

The avalanche warning will remain in effect throughout the day and possibly throughout the week. For an update on conditions, go to the Utah Avalanche Center website.

Ten avalanches of various sizes were documented by forecasters on Sunday along the Wasatch Front and near Moab. No injuries were reported, although one slide buried a road in Emigration Canyon, according to the center website.


Story written with contributions from Shara Park and The Associated Press.

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