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Rescue Groups Warn Of Increased Avalanche Danger

Feb 5, 2020, 8:10 PM | Updated: Jun 16, 2022, 11:35 pm
(KSL TV)...
(KSL TV)
(KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY – Several rescue groups held a press conference to call attention to an increase in the potential for avalanche danger in the back country, ahead of another winter storm expected to roll in early Thursday morning.

Officials from the Utah Department of Safety, Utah Avalanche Center and Wasatch Backcountry Rescue came together to talk about avalanche safety at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Search dogs Piper and Jasper were also at the press conference. Julia Edwards from Wasatch Backcountry Rescue owned one of the dogs.

“They’re incredibly friendly,” she said. “They’re good girls.”

The dogs were put in a helicopter for pictures. It was a great photo op, but as much as you might like dogs, hopefully you never need these two.

Piper and Jasper have been  trained to sniff out people who are buried under snow from an avalanche. Hopefully, though, it never comes to that.

Edwards said the put in a lot of effort, hoping the need for their services never arises.

“We train, we work hard, but when we’re called in, things haven’t gone right,” said Edwards. “Fundamentally, we don’t want to have to be called in.”

Utah Avalanche Center forecaster Craig Gordon has been talking about avalanche preparedness for the last 20 years.

“(Our) main emphasis is avalanche awareness, and more importantly, avalanche avoidance,” said Gordon.

He said the best way to avoid an avalanche is to be aware of where they could be.

Of course, if you’re caught in one, it’s just as important to know what gear is needed to get out of a dangerous situation. 

“You definitely want to be prepared for your own self-rescue,” said Gordon. “That means wearing and knowing how to use an avalanche transceiver, shovel, and probe.”

He said it also helps to be with someone who has the same gear and knows how to use it.

Bret Hutchings, a helicopter pilot for Utah’s Department of Public Safety, said to be prepared before an avalanche is triggered.

“The time to learn how to use the gear is not during the avalanche. It’s prior to,” he said.

Hutchings said he’s seen too often what avalanches do, especially in the past year.

“We’ve had three fatal snowmobilers and one fatal skier,” he said.

By the time the helicopter is brought out for an avalanche, it’s most likely for a recovery.

“(The) bottom line is you have to ask yourself – is that line you’re going to high-mark on your sled, or you’re going to take on your board or your skis – is it really worth your life?” he said. 

“Our dogs are amazing tools, but they’re not a replacement for a beacon, shovel, probe, and a partner who knows how to use it,” said Edwards.

Visit the Utah Avalanche Center online for the latest avalanche conditions throughout Utah.

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Rescue Groups Warn Of Increased Avalanche Danger