OUTDOORS & RECREATION

Avalanche expert explains how to measure slope angles

Jan 18, 2024, 7:10 PM | Updated: Jan 19, 2024, 5:55 am

BIG COTTONWOOD CANYON — Experts are advising Utahns to stick to slopes that are 30 degrees or less while avalanche danger remains high in most of the state’s canyons.

“We’re coming off the heels of this remarkable storm and this dense, heavy, wind-driven snow all fell on a layer of weak, sugary snow that developed during our mid-December dry spell,” Utah Avalanche Center forecaster Craig Gordon said.

He said the period for natural avalanches to occur following our most recent storms has passed.

“The snow now waits for a trigger like us to roll along, knock the legs out from underneath it and once we do, we’re staring down the barrel of a very dangerous avalanche,” Gordon said.

To avoid slides, experts like Gordon said it’s best to stick to certain slopes.

“Thirty degrees and less steep, it’s kind of the magic number,” he said.

No need to bring a protractor. Gordon said there are several tools people can use in the outdoors to figure out how steep a slope is.

He has a clinometer. Gordon holds it up to the horizon of the slope to see the slope angle. He said it only measures one piece of terrain.

“I don’t want any steep slopes above or adjacent to me,” Gordon said.

He said it’s easy for humans to trigger slopes that crash down like a roof.

“It’s like pulling the log out from the bottom of the wood pile and now the entire wood pile is crashing down on top of me,” Gordon said.

To survey a large area, he recommends using phone apps, like on X.

“I’m going to match my terrain choices with what the avalanche danger is,” Gordon said. “When it comes to slope angle, if I go to my mapping program and hit my slope angle option, I’ll have different shading options that shows me what my sloping angle is.”

Gordon said the phone apps are best used ahead of time, before deciding where to go.

“There’s lots of room for error and interpretation,” he said.

He recommends using all of the available tools together to make an informed decision. Gordon said people should always check their local avalanche forecast before heading out.

Gordon said before deciding where to go, take into account the weather, snowpack, and terrain.

“I want to avoid any terrain traps,” he said. “Those could be gulleys, trees that I could get stranded in, that could be a river bottom.”

He said doing so can save lives.

“Once we get into that elevated avalanche danger category, It’s time to be very cognizant of our surroundings, and what kind of terrain is above us, what kind of terrain we’re connected to,” Gordon said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Outdoors & Recreation

The Utah Avalanche Center opened a new beacon training park at Pinebrook Sunday, the closest park t...

Shelby Lofton

Utah Avalanche Center opens new rescue skills training park close to Salt Lake City

The Utah Avalanche Center opened a new beacon training park at Pinebrook on Sunday, the closest park to Salt Lake City.

8 hours ago

Aftermath of an avalanche off of the Wasatch Mountains. (Courtesy: Rob Holmes)...

Brianna Chavez

Backcountry skier urges caution after triggering avalanche in Little Cottonwood Canyon

A backcountry skier urges other skiers to be cautious after triggering avalanche in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

2 days ago

U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center forecasters nearly avoiding sliding off the edge of a mou...

Mike Anderson

Avalanche was ‘too close for comfort,’ for forecasters with Utah Avalanche Center

Forecasters with the US Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center were caught off-guard Wednesday as they triggered an avalanche just next to their ski tracks.

4 days ago

Wild swans can be seen flying at the Salt Creek Waterfowl Management Area. (Utah Division of Wildli...

Mark Jones

Where to see wild swans migrate through Utah next month

Wild swans will begin their annual migration through Utah in March, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

5 days ago

On Sunday, the Utah Avalanche Center said close to 20 avalanches had been reported since Friday. (...

Andrew Adams

Utah County woman helps to educate hikers about avalanche risk

With avalanches popping off at a prolific rate over the holiday weekend, a woman was helping raise awareness among hikers that the danger doesn’t just exist at higher elevations in the backcountry.

7 days ago

Alta Ski Resort has received 400 inches of snow so far this season. (Mark Less, KSL TV)...

Alex Cabrero

Alta Ski Resort passes 400 inches of snow for the season

Alta Ski Resort has received 400 inches of snow so far this season, and it has outdoor enthusiasts coming to enjoy the snow.

9 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Avalanche expert explains how to measure slope angles