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Avalanche risk is high this weekend

By Jed Boal and Peter Samore | Posted - Nov. 18, 2011 at 7:12 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY - More resorts are opening, and that pumps up the excitement. But, avalanche danger will also be high this weekend.

For serious skiers and snowboarders, the off-season can be agonizing.

But, the anxiety and anticipation was over as snow started to hit the mountains Friday. "We'll be out there shreading, going huge," said skier Richie Brady. "It's great. Tons of air time, beautiful weather, great snow. Couldn't ask for much more really."

Snowmaking and grooming techniques keep getting better all the time, so the conditions on the mountain are pretty good, even for day one. But, the buzz on the mountain today is the incoming storm.

Snow is already hitting the mountains, and the next storm is just around the corner, which would leave them even more susceptible to avalanches. But even without new snow, the light stuff that's sticking now can collapse underneath our feet.

Avalance advisory hotline
(888) 999-4019

"It's going to be dangerous again through the weekend," said Bruce Tremper, Director of the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center.

High winds will create slabs of snow in the high mountains. A foot of snow will settle on weak layers below. The thinner the snowpack, the weaker it is. When snow piles on top of that, it can slide. That's what caused multiple avalanches last week including one fatality, and a broken leg.

Trapper warns that skiers and snowboarders can be fooled, and it may and put their lives in danger.

"People think, ‘I've skied or snowboarded this slope hundreds of times and nothing has happened.' Suddenly, they're on the same exact slope with a bunch of other people around them, and it's avalanching," said Tremper.

How to be safe
  • Stick to resorts - the backcountry is where most avalanches occur.
  • Avoid North and East facing slopes.
  • Thinner snow is not safer than thick snow - thing snow can still fall and rake you against rocks and rough terrain.
  • Sound does not trigger avalanches. They are most often triggered by the weight of someone walking on the unstable snow.
  • "Any avalanche that you do trigger, even a small avalanche will be very dangerous because it rakes you over the rocks on the way down."

    Trapper says to avoid all northern- and eastern-facing slopes above 9500 feet this weekend, because that's where most of the preexisting snow sits and the risk for avalanche is greatest. It's not about what's on top, but what's underneath.

    "Every time we put more weight on top of it, it reactivates the slope. That's what will happen this weekend with this storm. It'll add more weight on top of those very weak layers," he said.

    He also said to stick with resorts and avoid the backcountry.

    "The back country — not the resorts — are where 99.9 percent of the avalanche threat is once the resorts are open," he said. "They do their own forecasting and (avalanche) control."

    Brighton, Solitude, Snowbird and Alta have all opened, and Park City will open Saturday. Opening dates for all resorts can be found at Ski Utah's website.

    Be sure to check the daily report from the Utah Avalanche Center if you are headed into the backcountry, be safe.

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    Jed Boal
      Peter Samore


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