Utah avalanche experts preparing for ski season

Posted at 7:34 PM, Nov 03, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-04 03:16:25-05

SANDY, Utah - Avalanches kill an average of four people in Utah's canyons every year but experts say many of those deaths are avoidable. Rescue volunteers and avalanche forecasters gathered in Sandy on Saturday to share the latest on avalanche safety.

Avalanche forecasting started in Utah and some of the best advances in equipment and education have been made here, including a new beacon on LifeFlight helicopters that can find a person trapped under the snow.

"We can actually grid search for a person buried in an avalanche much quicker. Our response time is anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes away to the backcountry," said Bret Hutchings, a LifeFlight pilot.

Avalanche experts say that avalanches are powerful and can be deadly, but they're also easy to predict.

"I think the most important thing to know is avalanches are not random, they're not mysterious. We understand avalanches pretty well," said Paul Diegel, executive director of the Utah Avalanche Center. "So if you are going to go out into the backcountry, you need to get a little information. You need to understand when it's safe to go into the mountains and when it's not. And how to travel through the mountains."

To stay safe in the backcountry skiers and snowboarders are encouraged to check avalanche forecasts daily, take a class or online tutorial about where avalanche danger is greatest and be prepared by carrying a shovel, probe, beacon and avalanche airbags.