Snowstorm raises avalanche danger in the backcountry

A man skies through snow on Friday. Recent snowstorms should put people heading to the backcounty on high alert for avalanches. (Stuart Johnson, KSL-TV)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The first real snowstorm of the season has created a dangerous situation for some areas in the mountains. Avalanche experts told KSL-TV a rise in avalanche danger will last through the weekend.

Craig Gordon, avalanche forecaster for the Utah Avalanche Center, described how the slopes most people want to hit in the backcountry are exactly the ones to stay away from right now.

He explained it's because a weak snowpack is sitting underneath this week's fresh powder, ready to trigger.

Triggering even a small avalanche, he said, could be enough to knock someone off their skis, snowboard or feet and reveal obstacles barely hidden underneath the shallow snowpack.

"We're going to be drawn to the slopes that are most dangerous, and those are going to be the slopes that had snow left over from October/November," Gordon said. "Those are going to be the types of slopes — especially with recent wind drifts — that we're going to want to totally steer clear of."

That doesn't just apply to backcountry skiers and snowboarders. Gordon advised anyone planning to hike, snowshoe, hunt, or camp to check conditions in the area they plan to be in.

The areas to watch out for, Gordon indicated, include mid- to high-elevation north-facing slopes.

He recommended people only go with those experienced in the backcountry and with proper gear, ready to self-rescue.

"The good news is, we can play on low-angle terrain," Gordon explained. "We just want to make sure there's no steep slopes above or adjacent to where we're riding."

The danger is expected to stay elevated through the weekend.

More information on avalanche conditions and forecasts can be found at the Utah Avalanche Center website.

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Lauren Steinbrecher


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