Avalanche danger: Look before you go, backcountry recreators warned
The report one sees on Utah's avalanche danger Web site seem cold, almost as cold as the snow that they are designed to describe.
"Skier triggered, Soft slab release, North Facing, 9000' elevation (estimated), 30-35Âº pitch, 1' - 4' crown, 75' - 100' wide, 350' running length, Released on convex/roll-over down to the October snowpack. Terrain had been 'experienced' by other parties moments prior to it's release. Fracture was uphill from skier. Skier beat slide down, deposition of slide billowed over a small roll and pushed victim through a small group of trees. Rolled onto back with arms arms out, luckily settled heads up and on top of most of the debris pile (very lucky). Partial burial. Self-rescued. Reported incident immediately to Brighton Patrol (since area was accessed from Brighton) and finished the observation of the area with Solitude Patrol since they manage the area. Cracking and sliding. Similar to one hundred microwaves going 50mph then settling up like cement. Slight wind deposits. Mostly settling fresh snow from the past storm in the warm temps.Medium-heavy density snow (from recent storm) atop weak bed surface that seems prominent to releasing on the north facing aspects this season. Snow lost it's structure on the October sugary/surface hoar at the bottom of snowpack."
This was the report on a avalanche incident last Monday near Brighton Ski Resort when a skier almost lost his life. Just as the report sounds cold, so are the facts.
Avalanches can kill. And they can kill people in Carbon County as much as they can in Big Cottonwood Canyon, in Salt Lake County or for that matter, anywhere else in the state.
The day before the incident described above, a skier was not as lucky as the one near Brighton when he was overwhelmed and buried in Hells Canyon near Snowbasin in Ogden Valley. He died.
Carbon has no ski resorts, but does have hundreds of snowmobilers, cross country skiers and snowshoers who use the mountains in the county for recreation. And slides here can be just as bad as anywhere.
Just ask old mining camp dwellers the grew up in places like Spring Canyon. Slides regularly occur in the narrow canyon, and in those days many houses were built right up to the slope, some even on the slope. Some people died, property was destroyed and lives and livelihoods disrupted. In those days people learned to watch the slopes and often knew if something was wrong, but it was hard to know the conditions under the snow in sight.
Today the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center that forecasts conditions, warns of present conditions and documents avalanches that happen around the state. And importantly too, they provide educational opportunities for people to learn more about avalanches.
"One of the main things we do is to provide information for back countryusers," said Evelyn Lees, a backcountry avalanche forecaster in a phone interview on Wednesday. "Around the state we start doing that around Nov. 1 and go through the end of March. Our funding has become more restricted lately so for the outlying areas (such as eastern Utah) the program is a bit shorter."
Lees said that because of the population base along the Wasatch Front, more slides in that area are human triggered but noted that the central and eastern part of the state have plenty of avalanches as well.
"Less people recreate in those areas during the winter, but the danger is still there," she said.
Grant Helgeson, the avalanche forecaster for the local area, says that this coming weekend will be a key one when it comes to snow stability.
"I think this weekend will be the most tricky one of the year because of the natural cycle we are going through right now," he said.
Helgeson travels out in the field and digs into the snow at local venues to find what kind of stability there is at potential slide areas.
The avalanche center hosts a website (utahavalanchecenter.org) from which people who want to go to the mountains can find out information on the area they are going to. One of the areas highlighted on their map is the Manti Skyline area which gives conditions and situations in that Wasatch Plateau where many local snowmobilers go.
"It is really best that people look at the Web site before the go out," said Lees. "It's easy on the Web site to sort areas by region."