Crews working to reduce high avalanche danger

Posted at 8:41 PM, Feb 01, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-01 22:41:58-05

SALT LAKE CITY - Avalanche experts say recent storms dumping heavy snow on a weakening snowpack means avalanche danger in Utah's backcountry is high.

The snowpack is upside-down right now, meaning the top layer of snow is heavier than the layers below it, which makes snow more likely to slide down.

"If you step off the path you will fall through the snow up to your armpits. And that's a fairly good demonstration," said Liam Fitzgerald with UDOT's Highway Avalanche Safety Program.

On average, Little Cottonwood Canyon sees 33 over-the-road avalanches every year. To combat the problem and keep the road open, UDOT is using artillery blasts, but conditions are still dangerous.

"We do our avalanche control work with military artillery. And the areas that we fire these artillery rounds are also the same places that people choose to go skiing," Fitzgerald said. "What we want to avoid at all costs is an encounter with the backcountry skiers and the work we are trying to do."

Warning signs have kept most skiers away from avalanche control areas, but some ignore them.

"Living in Utah, there's an interesting Catch-22 that you get. We are surrounded by mountain culture. But because of that I think people take it less seriously than they should," said backcountry skier Parker Cross. "When you recreate in the backcountry you have to realize the backcountry is serious."

Some of the more popular spots have signs of what to look for in unstable snow: recent avalanches, heavy snowfall, strong winds, shooting cracks, whoomping noises and rapid warming.