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New Snow Brings High Avalanche Danger Warning To Utah Mountains

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – With all of this new snow, Utah mountain resorts are rejoicing and opening up for eager skiers and snowboarders. But after Thanksgiving Week storms dumped as much as three feet of heavy snow in the mountains, the Utah Avalanche Center has issued an avalanche warning for the backcountry.

Officials with the Utah Avalanche Center said avalanche danger is high and urged people to stay away from steep terrain at high elevation and check the forecast before heading into the backcountry.

“We issued an avalanche warning starting yesterday,” said Nikki Champion, avalanche forecaster with the U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center.

That warning continued through Friday.

“So, expect avalanche danger to stay high,” she said. “We’ve been seeing a lot of human triggered avalanches. But, we’re also seeing natural avalanches in the backcountry as well as the resorts.”

One large avalanche was triggered by a backcountry skier Thursday along the Park City Ridgeline.

That’s why Cooper Long and Abaigeal Whiting headed to Brighton Resort for the day.

“I would say it’s pretty high risk,” Whiting said. “I would recommend staying on the resorts.”

The resorts monitor avalanche terrain and trigger slides to keep riders safe.

“It’s going to be fun,” Long said. “But it definitely could be a little bit spicy with some slides. We came out here knowing that it was going to be a big storm and just wanted to get some fun turns. But we knew we needed to stay on the resort.”

High elevation slopes have picked up several feet of snow, with wind gusts up to 70 mph.

“With all of that wind and snow comes increased instability,” Champion said. “Things are dangerous.”

Adding to the risk for avalanches, Champion said, was a weak layer of snow underneath all of the new snow, leftover from early-season snowfall in October and November.

“It sat there and it got sugary and weak,” she said. “Then, once you put a big load like all of this new snow and all of the wind on top of it, it just sets up the perfect recipe for avalanches.”

Last winter, four people died in avalanches in Utah following a couple of years with zero avalanche fatalities.

Utah lawmakers set aside the first week of December as Utah Avalanche Awareness Week and the Utah Avalanche Center will hold free events and classes focused on safety and awareness in the backcountry.

“Getting the gear. Getting the training. Getting out of harm’s way. Getting the big picture. Getting the forecast,” Champion said.

There’s more information about those classes at utahavalanchecenter.org. Anytime you plan to head into the backcountry on a snowmobile or skis, be sure to check the forecast with the Utah Avalanche Center.

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