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Avalanche expert investigates AF Canyon slide

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Posted at 6:11 PM, Feb 10, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-10 20:11:19-05

AMERICAN FORK CANYON -- State Route 92 in American Fork Canyon was closed after Saturday's avalanche took the life of a 21-year-old BYU student.

It didn't reopen until Monday morning because of extreme avalanche conditions.

Avalanche experts said the older snow has become unstable over the last few months and the recent storm overloaded the snowpack, making the backcountry a dangerous place.

“As soon as you get off those roads you're in the backcountry,” said Brett Kobernik, an avalanche forecaster for the Utah Avalanche Center. “Even if it’s just 50 yards, this is backcountry terrain. There’s no avalanche control work.”

It’s not difficult to see where Ashleigh Cox was buried Saturday afternoon.

“If you dig down into this debris right here you'll find this stuff sets up like concrete, especially with these warm temperatures, we aren't that high in elevation, so it doesn't take a whole lot of snow to bury you quite deeply,” Kobernik said.

Kobernik was sent to investigate the scene of the slide Monday near Tibble Fork Reservoir.

“The weak layers are saturated right now so much so that I don't feel comfortable going up there and monkeying around on that slope to try and gain any information, I already know what the deal is,” he said.

The pile of debris and snow that ultimately killed Cox is yards from where her car was parked on the road.

A statewide avalanche warning is currently in effect and Utahns have been urged to stay out of the backcounty and exercise extreme caution in call canyons for the next few days.

“It's very easy to think that that`s safe location it seems very unassuming but this is the exact situation that demonstrates how dangerous these areas are,” Kobernik said.

Experts are out forecasting all winter. For daily updates on avalanche danger visit http://utahavalanchecenter.org/ before you head to a specific area.