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Avalanche danger can be minimized with caution

Some of the tools used in testing for avalanche conditions by back country travelers.

SA and ECP Publisher

Each year hundreds of snowmobilers, cross country skiers, snowshoers and other winter outdoor enthusiasts see avalanches occurring.

Most luckily, see them from a distance. But a few, see them close up.

And a few of those die in the process.

Avalanches are often deadly. What may seem like a lot of white powdery snow laying softly on a ridge or cornice can become a mass of rolling white death very quickly.

Each year the Utah Avalache Center tries to protect people from these cold masses by putting out information and performing education for those who love the back country when it is covered with snow.

Since 1980, the goal of the Utah Avalanche Center has been to keep people on top of the Greatest Snow on Earth instead of being buried beneath it. They do this by providing critical avalanche and mountain weather information to help outdoors people make their life-and-death decisions in the back country.

Avalanche instruction is based on the principal that if a person thinks they should not go somewhere because of the danger, they shouldn't. Like all safety principles, the more times a person tempts fate the more likely they are to encounter a problem. Just like the person who climbs on a chair to change a light bulb instead of using a step stool or ladder appropriate for the job, there are many times that it can be done that the person will get away with that unsafe practice. But once in a hundred times, a fall may occur and that is when the damage happens.

This week the danger is listed as moderate to high in most areas of the state, but because of the kind of snow Utah has experienced this year, the danger has often been extreme since the white fluff began accumulating in late November.

There are five avalanche descriptors; low, moderate, considerable, high and extreme.

Each descriptor has three factors included in it; avalanche probability, degree and distribution of avalanche danger and recommended action a back country traveler should take.

When the level is extreme avalanches are a certainty, many can be large and destructive, and can take place on many kinds of slopes. Travelers in the back country are urged to stay on low angle terrain and well below where avalanches could "run out."

Terminology is very important when dealing with avalanche danger. There are over 70 terms officially used in conjunction with avalanches and their description.

Back country travelers can be trained to spot avalanche conditions, but often doing the detective work to spot them is a little time consuming and doing cut tests on snow in one spot that looks similar to those on a slope above can be misleading.

Using the advice of the Utah Avalanche Center is probably the best way to know what the danger would be generally and even in a single area.

Locally, each year, Carbon County Recreation also holds a class on avalanche safety.

This year 15 people registered for the class, which included an evening of classroom instruction and a half day of instruction in the field.

Avalanches can be very unpredictable, and even experts have been caught up in avalanches when they believed a situation to be safe.

For more information on education go to

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