Nearly half of fatal avalanche victims are snowmobilers; experts offer hands-on safety training

Posted at 4:46 PM, Jan 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-16 23:28:48-05

SUMMIT COUNTY, Utah - Avalanche danger warnings are expected to rise this weekend, and one group in particular is being warned of the danger.

The Utah Avalanche Center took a group of about 30 snowmobilers into the Uintah backcountry Saturday to give them some specific training on surviving and avoiding avalanches.

“So that they can detect instabilities in the snow, they’ll know how to find safe route finding terrain features,” said Utah Avalanche Center forecaster Craig Gordon of the class instruction. “Then, finally, if they do make a mistake, we’ll empower them with the skills that they need to successfully pull off an avalanche rescue.”

According to numbers from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, 49 percent of all avalanche deaths are snowmobilers. Gordon says the power of snowmobiles, combined with their ability to glide through unstable terrain easily, make them particularly vulnerable.

The course is a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on learning in the Uintah backcountry. Participants practiced with beacons, probes and shovels. It’s instruction participant Jeff Smith said will help him prepare his family be more safe.

“We do see a lot of people out there who may not be as prepared,” Smith said. “Avalanche awareness is just starting to be an issue in the snowmobile community.”

Gordon said one of the biggest keys in avoiding avalanches is recognizing unsafe terrain and checking the conditions. The Utah Avalanche center updates conditions daily on their website, click here for their forecasts and other resources.