Avalanche risk high in northern Utah, winter storm delays some ski resorts
Dec 3, 2023, 10:20 PM | Updated: 10:25 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — A weekend winter storm that brought heavy snow to the mountains along the Wasatch Front also led to high avalanche risk warnings across northern Utah.
“Folks may not have the mindset that it’s not just ski and riding season but it’s avalanche season and that’s no joke out there,” said Drew Hardesty, a forecaster with the Utah Avalanche Center. “These avalanches are big and not to be trifled with.”
Hardesty said forecasters with the center reported dozens of avalanches, both natural and human-caused, in the backcountry.
Hardesty also urged people to avoid all avalanche terrain.
“That’s avoiding all slopes steeper than 30 degrees and avoid being underneath them cause you can trigger them from the valley below,” he said.
Hardesty said since the early season was fairly dry snow rotted fast and weak, what he called persistent weak layers.
“So now we just added 2 to 4 feet of heavy, dense snow, strong in west northwest winds. The danger is high now, but those persistent, weak layers are persistent for a reason. The avalanche danger is going to be elevated through the week and we’ll just see how things pan out.”
The storm delayed the openings of Alta and Snowbird resorts Sunday morning. Officials at Snowbird said the storm caused strong winds of up to 100 miles per hour and brought in close to 40 inches of snow.
Those factors plus the high avalanche risk forced the resort to only open their beginner lift, Chickadee, to visitors.
Resort Status Update:
Our teams have been working hard all morning to conduct avalanche mitigation and open terrain; however, due to ongoing natural avalanche activity, continued heavy snowfall and strong winds, Snowbird will not open any lifts other than Chickadee today, 12/3. pic.twitter.com/P4NW3lYlwq
— Snowbird (@Snowbird) December 3, 2023
Hardesty encouraged skiers going to the backcountry to be prepared.
“Know which areas are going to be more dangerous or more safe. Go out there with rescue gear. Beacon, shovels, probes, maybe avalanche airbag, go out with a good out with a good confident partner, get educated, let people know where you’re going to be, come home at the end of the day,” Hardesty said.
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Sunday also marked the start of Avalanche Awareness Week. For more information on events click here.