OUTDOORS & RECREATION

Utah Avalanche Center warns of ‘high’ risk as massive avalanche is captured on video in Little Cottonwood

Jan 16, 2024, 10:50 PM

GRANITE — After a massive avalanche came down in Little Cottonwood Canyon Tuesday, forecasters warned of the potential danger with risk categorized as “high” from Logan to central Utah.

Forecaster Craig Gordon said the avalanche in the Monte Cristo area was captured on video as it tumbled down 2,700 vertical feet and ended just a couple hundred feet from state Route 210.

“At this juncture, man, this piece of snow is just roaring down this steep gulley, stacking up tons and tons of snow,” Gordon said as he reviewed the video. He said fortunately, nobody was caught in the avalanche.

“It would be lights-out, game-over,” Gordon told KSL TV. “You’ve got to think it is like a locomotive pile-driving everything in its path and you’re on that receiving end.”

The forecast Tuesday from the U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center characterized all charted regions in northern and central Utah as “high” while the danger in the Moab region was characterized as “considerable.”

“What we’re finding is that the avalanche hazard is ‘tip to tail,’” Gordon explained. “It runs from the ridgelines into our mid-elevations and down into lower elevations as well. The problem is, any avalanche you trigger — it’s going to break deep, it’s going to break wide and it’s going to be un-survivable.”

On Tuesday night, educators were at multiple locations working to drive a safety message home to those looking to learn about avalanches and the potential backcountry hazard.

“Avalanche conditions are changing pretty drastically right now,” said Jeremy Collett, who was speaking to a group at Wheeler Farm in Murray. “Knowledge is power, so educating yourself is the first step to staying safe.”

The “Know Before You Go” education program only carried extra weight amid the elevated risk. It appeared beginners like Mike Reynolds were ready to learn.

“I don’t have any backcountry experience so we’ve been slowly kind of dipping my toes into it,” Reynolds said. “You know, (I) don’t want to be a complete ‘Jerry’ out there.”

Gordon hoped education efforts — both in media and before smaller groups — would help to avoid situations like the one that unfolded in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

“We’ve got to think about our actions and how they might impact somebody else’s life,” Gordon said. “It would be a bad deal at the end of the day.”

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Utah Avalanche Center warns of ‘high’ risk as massive avalanche is captured on video in Little Cottonwood