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Backcountry On Alert Amid Increasing Avalanche Danger

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah — As many got their start Friday to a weekend in the outdoors, there was a heightened awareness to the potential avalanche hazard.

“It could happen to anyone,” acknowledged skier Terry Hottman, who headed into the backcountry of Big Cottonwood Canyon with 74-year-old wife, Carol.

Both came equipped with avalanche airbags, shovels, probes and beacons.

“We’ve come close but we’ve never been caught in one,” Carol said as the two unloaded their gear into their truck.

They realized not everyone had been as fortunate.

Last week, 4 people died when a massive avalanche in Millcreek Canyon swept away two groups of highly-experienced skiers.

“It was really sad,” Terry Hottman said.

This weekend, avalanche forecasters were urging those headed to the backcountry to be prepared and be careful ahead of increasing danger.

“We keep on adding layer after layer after layer and, man, the snowpack is just teetering on the balance,” said Craig Gordon, forecaster with the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center.

Gordon said with an unusually-shallow snowpack for the time of year, avalanche conditions have also been unusual.

“Any avalanche you trigger has the potential to break deep,” Gordon explained. “it has the potential to break wide, so it could take out the entire season’s snowpack and the result is going to be super, super devastating.”

He urged people not only to come prepared with beacons, shovels, probes and airbags, but to also come armed with the latest forecast.

“I think we should be aware of it, conscious, kind of educate yourself,” said Sehidi Bustillos, who was with friends in Big Cottonwood Canyon Friday afternoon.

The Hottmans said they’ll completely avoid the backcountry when the avalanche danger is too great.

“Yeah, avoid some of the real extreme stuff!” Terry Hottman said.

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