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Avalanche nearly captures 3 Utah skiers; forecasters urge caution


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WELLSVILLE, Cache County — A close call in the mountains near Wellsville has avalanche forecasters urging people in the backcountry to use extra care.

An avalanche about 6 feet deep descended toward a group of skiers in the area Sunday. Experts with the U.S. Forest Service Avalanche Center said it's kind of a tricky time to make assessments because while the danger is moderate to considerable, there are areas where it can be higher.

Three skiers reported as they started to ski down a bowl, high winds started to push large, hard slabs off the side of the mountain.

"As they got to the top of the ridge, they realized that the winds were moving a lot of snow and creating sensitive drifts or wind slabs," said Toby Weed, an avalanche forecaster from the Logan area. "They decided to come to come down off the mountain, and as they were skiing down, one of them triggered an avalanche, triggered cracking around his skis, and a small wind-slab avalanche ensued."

One of the three caught his skies in the slide that was estimated to be 200 feet wide.

"All of the guys that were involved were lucky for sure not to have been caught and killed in the avalanche," Weed said. "It went down close to 2,000 vertical feet in elevation, through a tight gulley with lots of small maples trees and it would not have been a good situation."

He said more recent snow is sitting on top of a persistent weak layer that hit the state in November.

"Everything turned out OK this time," Weed said. "Thankfully nobody got caught in the avalanche ... it was quite a lot of snow."

He said much of Utah's snow should stabilize within a few weeks but also said it was important to be patient and stay away from steep slopes. He said there is plenty of great snow this year on slopes less than 30 degrees. There is also the potential for more instability with more wet snow falling right now.

"Yes, it's heavy but it's also really hard snow; hard enough that you can barely stick your finger into it."

As wet, heavier snow continues to fall, it is adding to the potential danger. A skier was caught in a Big Cottonwood Canyon avalanche this weekend and there was another close call in Cache Valley that has forecasters concerned.

Weed said it's essential to always check conditions before heading outdoors.

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Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson often doubles as his own photographer, shooting and editing most of his stories. He came to KSL in April 2011 after working for several years at various broadcast news outlets.

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