Utah avalanche forecasters warning people to stay out of backcountry

A weak snowpack, combined with snow from this week’s storms, means conditions are dangerous, Utah Avalanche Center warns. (Utah Avalanche Center)



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON — It's tempting for people to head to the backcountry and take advantage of all the new snow up there, but with a weak snowpack, combined with snow from this week's storms, conditions are dangerous.

One skier experienced how quickly conditions can change up Big Cottonwood Canyon.

"The conditions were amazing. For this early in the year, we were kinda blown away with how good the skiing was," Jon James said.

Friday morning, James and his two buddies — all experienced backcountry skiers — set out for some runs in Big Cottonwood Canyon near Silver Fork. The same spot they ventured to the day before with no problems.

"We had read the Utah Avalanche Center report earlier that morning. We actually called into the center as well and listened to the forecast."

James was on his third run when he encountered trouble — an avalanche 100feet wide.

His friend captured it on his cell phone.

"I started trying to ski out of it and I was really going fast and I thought I was actually going to make it out."

He was totally submerged, but managed to dig himself out with help from his friends. A close call that rattled the experienced skier.

"Fortunately for me, I don't have any injuries at all — just renewed humility and respect for the mountains."

More significant avalanches were trigged Saturday up Big Cottonwood Canyon. At least three in as many hours.

In one case, a skier was caught, carried and deployed his airbag. This one was triggered in Cardiff Bowl above the town of Alta.

The Utah Avalanche Center is warning people to stay out of the backcountry, even if you're experienced.

"Last year, we had six avalanche fatalities. We're prime to have more avalanche fatalities if we continue to see people heading into steep terrain," said Drew Hardesty, a forecaster for the Utah Avalanche Center.

The Utah Avalanche Center said in James' case, even if you read the advisory and have the proper gear, that may not save you if you're caught in an avalanche.

They stress that with more storms moving in next week, it's too risky.

Tamara Vaifanua

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