Avalanche danger increases over weekend

N-Avalanches Colby Patterson

Last weekend was considered the most dangerous of the year for avalanches on Utah’s slopes.

Avalanche warnings escalated from “considerable danger” to “extreme danger” after the death of a 21-year-old BYU student in a 50-foot avalanche while snowshoeing in American Fork Canyon on Sunday. A snowmobiler in Sanpete County was also killed Sunday in similar conditions.

Bruce Tremper, director of the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center, said the danger is the result of conditions that have been building all season.

“The first ingredient for danger like this is a weak existing snowpack,” he said.

Tremper said because of Utah’s draught, snow that fell prior to this weekend was thin and weak. This weekend’s snowstorms produced high avalanche danger by dumping three to four feet of wet, heavy snow on top of the weaker snowpack.

Despite this, Tremper said resort skiing is perfectly safe because of the avalanche control procedures resorts complete each morning before opening.

Andy Miller, director of communications for Park City Mountain Resort, said the resort does not hesitate to delay opening parts of the mountain until they are certain avalanche danger has been minimized.

“I feel safe anywhere within designated ski areas,” said West Singleton, a freshman in linguistics. “I trust the resorts to get it right.”

Chris Broullire, a senior in international studies and health promotion and education, said he is not worried about avalanches in the resorts.

“That’s what avalanche control teams are for,” Broullire said. “That’s literally their entire job.”

While Broullire’s confidence is unwavering within the resort, he said it would be “stupid” to ski out of bounds with the current conditions.

Tremper encouraged skiers and snowboarders who choose to enter the backcountry to seek information and training before they go. The Utah Avalanche Center offers daily warnings and conditions on their website, along with a list of all avalanche safety courses offered by the center.

Although it does not eliminate the risk, Tremper encouraged people to carry avalanche gear with them whenever they head out.

“A beacon doesn’t prevent you from getting caught in an avalanche,” Singleton said. “It just helps people get you out if you do.”

a.oligschlaeger@chronicle.utah.edu