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Fresh snow heightens need for outdoors enthusiasts to be prepared

By Jed Boal and Geoff Liesik | Posted - Dec 27th, 2012 @ 11:16pm


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WASATCH COUNTY — With as much as 3 feet of fresh snow in the mountains over the last few days, Utah powderhounds are ready to play.

"You got everything from slopes, valleys, meadows; it's a good time," said Sid Bastian, as he finished up an afternoon of snowmobiling at Daniels Summit Lodge.

And late Thursday night, the snow was still falling.

"I hope it dumps. I hope it pounds. I love a good storm," said Allen Hill, who grew up sledding around Daniels Summit. "Just to get the sleds out the powder is just a rush."

But experienced sledders like Hill are always prepared. For those headed into the backcountry on snowmobiles, that means safety checks before they go.

Wednesday, two snowmobilers were able to hike to safety after they became separated from their group and lost in Summit County. The experienced snowmobilers we talked to said they're always prepared to spend the night if they have to.

Hill knows just how valuable that preparation can be. He once got stranded with friends.

"We got in a bind in a canyon in a storm, and couldn't get out. We ran out of gas, the whole nine yards," he said. "I feel for the people who go and are not prepared."

That's when Hill was glad to have a candy bar and a lighter to build a fire. He was wearing extra layers too.

Hill said you should never underestimate how cold it might be once you are wet and out in sub-freezing temperatures for hours on end. You can always remove extra layers if you get too warm.

Brandon Willet is a snowmobile guide at Daniels Summit. He spends plenty of time pulling stuck snowmobiles out of the snow, so he knows how quickly a sledder can get stranded. He's also prepared for avalanche danger.

"You want to have a probe, a shovel in case you have to dig anyone out or get your sled unstuck," Willet said.

A beacon is also strongly recommended for backcountry riding.

Willet always takes his pack, just in case he needs it for himself or he finds another snowmobiler in trouble.

"I've always got some waterproof matches, something to eat with me, some water to drink," he said. "If I had to build a shelter, I could use the shovel to build a snow cave and spend the night."

But Allen and Willet both said it's not enough just to have the right equipment; you also have to have the right knowledge. They advise other outdoorsmen to know the area where they're playing, and know the avalanche conditions.

"They need to know their surroundings: where they can get out of those canyons or out of those bowls," Allen said. "Know the riders they're with and the skill set that they have."

And, don't forget to tell somebody where you are going and when you're going to be back.

Willet also pointed out that a cellphone just might work if you're near a mountain ridge. That's another emergency tool that just might save your life.

Another danger in the backcountry: avalanche. By Thursday afternoon, the Utah Avalanche Center said avalanche risk has risen in the stae. As the new snow settles, the danger will be the number of people on the mountain lured into a false security by what they see around them.

"Things aren't going to be really, really in-your-face dangerous," said Brett Kobernik, an avalanche forecaster for the Utah Avalanche Center. "So it's going to be easy for folks to be feeling good out there and enjoying all this fresh snow, but there are these buried deep weak layers that are going to be potentially a problem."

A single skier may not trigger an avalanche at that point, but several may.

Kobernik said the greatest avalanche danger right now is along the western Uintas and the Manti-Skyline area, places snowmobiliers like Neibaur like to frequent.

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