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Utah Avalanche Center urging safety ahead of forecasted snowstorms

SALT LAKE COUNTY — Backcountry skiers and snowmobilers are beyond eager to start riding when the forecasted snowstorms arrive. Until then, it’s a good idea to brush up with proper avalanche education.

On Monday evening, the Utah Avalanche Center kicked off an open house for Avalanche Awareness Week.

“Our number one goal is to make sure people can come home safe at the end of the day,” Dave Coyne, the community outreach coordinator for the Utah Avalanche Center, said.

Plenty of people showed up at Sugar House Park to practice working with transceivers and learn more about resources for education and safety when avalanche conditions persist.

“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in users in the backcountry in the past couple of seasons, and we’ve seen an uptick in gear sales in the past couple of seasons as well,” Coyne said.

Even before the pandemic, more people were heading into the backcountry on skis and snowmobiles.

The Utah Avalanche Center believes that trend intensified during the pandemic, as people avoided crowds and looked for new adventures.

“I think everybody’s just been itching to be outdoors, not only in the winter time, but in the summertime, too,” Coyne said.

In the backcountry, on skis or a snowmobile, you need to be armed with the latest avalanche conditions.

Six people died last year in slides in Utah, so preparation is critical.

“It’s definitely a big step to go from our controlled ski resorts to the other side of the rope line,” Coyne said.

Coyne recommends that people heading into the backcountry check the Utah Avalanche Forecast, which started daily briefings Monday.

He also said to learn about avalanche danger and get the proper safety gear.

“Once we step on the other side of that rope line, it’s any man’s game. So, it’s really important to have your beacon, your shovel, your probe, and read the avalanche forecast every day.”

At the kick off event, mock avalanche rescue drills were set up for beginners and experts to learn and practice using avalanche transceivers.

The goal is to save lives.

“Come with your questions. Come with your gear. See if what you got it what we recommend,” Coyne said. “It’s a great way to just kind of shake out for the season.”

The Utah Avalanche Center also launched a program called “Batteries for Beacons.”

During Avalanche Awareness Week, anyone can go to a participating retailer, shop, or dealership — typically ones that sell winter backcountry gear — and get free batteries for their avalanche transceivers. Additionally, at each shop, they can register to win avalanche rescue gear, which includes transceivers, shovels and probes.

More information can be found at the Utah Avalanche Center website.

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