UTAH — Three avalanches occurred in the Cottonwoods on Sunday after the first winter storm hit the Wasatch, leaving over a foot of snow. Two took place in the Alta Ski area; one at Main Chute on Mount Baldy and the other in the area known as High Greeley. Both avalanches were human-caused. The third occurred in Big Cottonwood at Cardiac Ridge and was triggered naturally.
The early season brings dangerous conditions to the backcountry for skiers, hikers, and snowboarders. The fresh snow falls onto an unstable snowpack and brings forth added risk. Although the depth of the three avalanches on Sunday only ranged between 4 and 18 inches, that is still enough to cause injury or death.
“It’s very early season conditions right now. And we did have a lot of snow over the weekend. It did fall onto bare ground, and so avalanches do break, and that snow will likely go to the ground, which can be very dangerous because if you get caught, you will hit rocks, trees, or whatever else that are on the ground,” said Chad Brackelsberg, Executive Director at the Utah Avalanche Center.
Although there are limited quantities of snow now, the Cardiac Ridge avalanche, for example, occurring with a depth of 18 inches, is more than enough to bury a person. Early-season avalanches are nothing new for the region, as there have been several deaths, and injuries, in the past.
“We have had fatalities in the Wasatch early season in November from avalanches that have gone to the ground and stranded a person through Cliff bands and rocks. [While] it’s not common; it’s not unheard of. About 11 years ago, professional skier Jamie Pierre died at Snowbird. That was early November from an avalanche that basically went to the ground,” said Brackelsberg.
As we move closer to the opening day of ski season at resorts and the backcountry becomes more active with skiers and snowboarders, it’s a great time to freshen up on avalanche rescue skills or take an avalanche safety class.
The Utah Avalanche Center is offering a free beacon training event on November 3 at Matt Knoop Memorial Park in Park City. The training will last from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Although this is not a substitute for an avalanche rescue course, training and practicing using a beacon can improve skills and preparation in an emergency.