Utah Avalanche Center warns of increased recreating amid avalanche risk

Jan 5, 2024, 5:00 PM | Updated: 5:24 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns may be craving to play in the snow amid Friday’s first significant snowfall in many weeks, but the Utah Avalanche center is worried about that intersecting with the rising level of avalanche danger.

Forecasters say that because it’s been so dry the last few weeks, snow enthusiasts in Utah are eager to get out and recreate and may not be thinking about the dangers of avalanches right now.

“This is our biggest concern that we’ve had such benign weather the last few weeks and we’ve had a low avalanche danger. We haven’t had much snow and a lot of people who live here are snow lovers, so they’ve just been waiting for this storm. So now they’re going to have this intersection of a rising avalanche danger and this desire to get into the snow. And we’re concerned about the intersection of the two,” Utah Avalanche Centre forecaster Greg Gagne said.

Avalanche risk is expected to increase to moderate on Friday, with the potential to get worse into the middle of next week. Gagne said once Utah’s mountains reach 2 feet of snow, the risk will increase significantly, it will be widespread, and it will stay elevated for a while.

Gagne described that the base layer of snow in Utah’s mountains has been drying out for the last few weeks, making the base layer crystallized, sugary, and very weak. He said normally, Utah’s mountains could handle a foot or two of new snow without the avalanche risk going up too much.

“But it’s because the existing snow structure, the snow that’s on the ground right now is so weak, it’s so loose, it’s so sugary that it’s not going to take much new snow to create this avalanche danger,” he said.

Gagne likened it to building a house on a foundation of sand. He said the danger will be highest above 8,000 feet and on slopes steeper than 30 degrees. He said you can think of that as steep as a set of stairs.

The center reminds people to check conditions, be prepared, and gear up before heading out. The center’s website updates conditions daily.

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Utah Avalanche Center warns of increased recreating amid avalanche risk