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Carbon County snowmobilers, skiers advised to seek avalanche education

Heavy snow and recent avalances in the southeastern Utah have shown the need for Carbon County residents to be educated and prepared for unstable terrain when snowmobiling and skiing in Utah's backcounty.

According to the National Forest Service, nearly all avalanches that involve people are triggered by the victims themselves or a member of their party.

However, this statistic can be good news. By knowing how to recognize avalanche conditions, poor locations can be avoided and allow for a safe backcounty experience.

According to the Forest Service's Avalanche Center, avalanches occur when three variables exist and interact

First, the terrain must have a steep enough slope to avalanche.

Slopes of 25 degrees or less are usually not steep enough to cause avalanches.

Second, changing weather can cause instability in an area and increase likelihood of an avalanche.

Wind is also a factor because large amounts of snow can be redistributed and cause instability.

Third, the snow pack must be unstable enough to allow an avalanche.

Usually a warmer snowpack settles more quickly and forms denser and stronger than a cold snowpack, making it less likely to avalanche.

However, if the warming occurs too rapidly, the snowpack becomes very wet and unstable.

"Recent snow, layered on snow from earlier in the season, increases avalanche danger," stated Erik Stucki of Utah State Parks and Recreation. "It is important to check conditions and be prepared for anything you may encounter in the backcountry."

Stucki provides the following safety tips when enjoying the outdoors to avoid avalanche conditions:

•Make sure everyone in the group wears an avalanche beacon and knows how to use it.

•Always carry a shovel that can be used to dig a person or a machine out of the snow.

•Carry an avalanche probe.

•Watch for slopes steeper than 30 degrees; a steeper slope increases the chance for both natural and human triggered avalanches to occur.

"We urge snowmobilers to be especially aware of the avalanche danger and to call our hotline, which is updated by the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center," said Stucki.

The OHV hotline offers current avalanche and snow conditions, which are updated by the Utah Avalanche Forecast.

In addition, it offers grooming information for all snowmobiling complexes maintained by Utah Parks and Recreation.

The hotline also provides information about snowmobiling laws and rules, survival tips, OHV education and maps.

To access the hotline, Carbon County residents may call toll free 1-800-OHV-RIDE.

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