Canyons At Increased Risk Of Avalanches Over Weekend

Jan 17, 2019, 6:35 PM | Updated: Jan 18, 2019, 10:35 am

SANDY, Utah – Snowmobilers and backcountry skiers have been urged to stay out of steep, mountain terrain in canyons along the Wasatch Front until the end of the three-day holiday weekend. The National Weather Service issued an avalanche warning for the area.

With warmer temperatures in Northern Utah, it was raining in the valleys and snowing in the mountains Thursday afternoon. All of that heavy precipitation has added to the avalanche danger, which the National Weather Service said was “high” for the northern Utah mountains.

The increased danger has come at a time when many people planned to have an extra day off work with Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day

“It’s going to be a lot of people getting out this weekend,“ said Greg Gagne, an avalanche forecaster with the Utah Avalanche Center.

A lot of people in Utah eager to play in fresh powder this holiday weekend, but snow conditions are quickly turning dangerous in the back country.

Up near the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon at the White Pine Trailhead it was dumping snow all day. UDOT closed the road for an hour Thursday afternoon to manually trigger avalanches safely.

Forecasters have predicted even more snow to come.

Heavy snow in the mountains has already started to slide on loose layers below. Both the rain and the heavy snow will continue to intensify the avalanche risk.

“It’s falling on top of a weak, pre-existing snow pack,” said Gagne. “So, we’re going to be seeing avalanches at lower elevations, all the way up to the mountain tops.“

The pre-existing snowpack was weakened during the recent stretches of cold, clear weather, he said.

“It turns into loose, weak, sugary snow. That’s what we mean by weak snow,” Gagne said. “By itself, it’s okay, but once you put a load on top of it, that loose, weak, sugary snow can’t support the weight of the new snow.“

That leads to avalanches.

“We’re going to be overloading the snowpack quickly,” said Gagne. “When the snowpack has rapid change it’s a recipe for avalanches.“

Skiers and snowboarders should stay out of the back country, he said, and snowmobilers will want to stay in the meadows and away from slopes steeper than 30 degrees.

“Don’t enter avalanche terrain this weekend through the Martin Luther King holiday,” he said. “If you do want to enjoy the snow, go to one of the world-class resorts where they’re doing avalanche mitigation and keeping the slopes safe for us.“

The avalanche warning does not apply to ski resorts where snow safety professionals clear avalanche terrain throughout the day.

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Canyons At Increased Risk Of Avalanches Over Weekend