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Avalanche Awareness is Key to Survival

Avalanche Awareness is Key to Survival

Posted - Dec. 14, 2004 at 6:06 p.m.



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Jed Boal ReportingIt was a wicked weekend for avalanches across Northern Utah. Snow slides killed four people. Other avalanches swept down the slopes unnoticed. Jed Boal went out with an avalanche expert today, to see what happened.

Saturday was one of those days snowmobilers and skiers dream about. It was also a day with all of the ingredients for many massive avalanches.

Craig Gordon, Avalanche Forecaster: "This is probably the largest avalanche I've ever seen."

The slide killed a snowmobiler who knew the area. It was a quarter-mile wide where the slab broke, 4-8 feet deep.

Craig Gordon, Avalanche Forecaster: "Coming to the site, there were red flags from all of the avalanche activity."

Craig Gordon knows avalanches, he's studied them up close for 20 years.

Craig Gordon, Avalanche Forecaster: "What made this dangerous was a mid-slope break. It's a very dangerous area."

Gordon says it was the perfect storm for avalanches. Another one in the same area could have been deadly.

Here's how a slab of snow slides. Heavy snow piles up on a weaker layer. Last week the early snow was light, Wednesday and Thursday it was wet and dense. Sunshine and warmth compressed the snow late Friday and Saturday, and it didn't take much to trigger an avalanche. Many slabs broke away naturally.

Craig Gordon, Avalanche Forecaster: "The biggest clue to snow instability is recent avalanches. If I'm seeing them all around, red flags should be going off."

When you head out keep your eyes open, read the slopes, look for clues of avalanche danger, and don't let a beautiful day fool you. The avalanche forecaster says anyone heading into the backcountry should arm themselves with as much information as possible. Always call for an avalanche forecast, and look for the link at the top of this story.

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