COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — With 12 to 20 inches of snow expected in the mountains of northern Utah, forecasters Friday expressed added concern about elevated avalanche danger coupled with the potential influx of inexperienced adventurers eager to escape the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I would definitely tone it down," Utah Avalanche Center forecaster Craig Gordon said. "I know there's a high level of stoke right now, but we've got to think it's going to be a long season. So let's just chill a little bit. Let's enjoy the amazing environment we have, but let's also exercise just a little bit of restraint."
Gordon said the storm Friday into Saturday was expected to produce strong winds along with the heavy snow, increasing the avalanche risk through the weekend.
The Utah Avalanche Center said it was expecting a "drastic increase of people venturing into backcountry avalanche terrain" this winter.
Gordon said even small avalanches this time of year can prove extremely hazardous.
"It reveals all of the obstacles underneath this thin snowpack," Gordon said. "You get pinballed off of rocks and stumps and deadfall and that would instantly ruin your season."
A lack of experience can only compound matters, he said.
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"It's great that we're enjoying our amazing back yard, but we have to be really cognizant that our actions don't ruin somebody else's day," said Gordon.
Paul Steinman said he has spent "thousands of hours" in Big Cottonwood Canyon and was also worried about the potential for problems.
"I think it's inevitable," he said. "Hopefully it's minimized and people still take the precautions to educate themselves about the dangers and how to avoid them here."
Gordon urged people to visit the Utah Avalanche Center's website for the latest information and area-specific advisories.
Forecasters also recommended those heading to the backcountry be conservative and not go too fast, avoiding steep slopes in favor of low-angled slopes.
"We've got to avoid the accident," Gordon said. "A lot of our frontline healthcare workers are maxed out, so let's tone it down a little bit, let's not stress out a lot of the healthcare workers that we need for our own safety."