Experts say avalanche danger high in mountains of northern Utah this weekend

Posted at 7:20 PM, Dec 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-09 21:20:32-05

NORTHERN UTAH -- An avalanche warning for this weekend was issued just hours before a small slide was triggered by a skier near Park City.

The avalanche was about 60 feet wide and a foot deep. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and the Utah Avalanche center says they want to keep it that way all season long.

In a warning put out Friday, experts say there is considerable avalanche danger for much of northern Utah.

“We think there’s a high likelihood of large, potentially destructive and dangerous avalanches this weekend,” said Paul Diegel, executive director of the Utah Avalanche Center.

Luke Larsen is an avid skier and the co-owner of a ski shop that sells safety gear. He knows firsthand why back country skiers should be prepared. He's heard warnings like this before.

"First and foremost, before you buy anything else, I'd buy safety gear," said Larsen, Co-owner of the Lift House Ski Shop.

Diegel said the forecast for this weekend creates familiar conditions.

“We've got a big series of storms coming in this weekend, and they're going to drop a bunch of wet, heavy snow on top of this," Diegl said. "It doesn't take a lot of imagination to realize that when you put a big load on top of weak layers of snow, you're going to have a lot of avalanches."

The Utah Avalanche Center recommends that people never venture out into the back country alone. They also say avalanches are especially likely on slopes steeper than 30 degrees.

“They're going to have to be very careful," Diegel said of those recreating in the mountains this weekend. "You`re going to have to know where to go, stay out from under steep slopes, cross slopes one at a time, and not expose themselves to avalanches. And they should absolutely have rescue gear with them."

He says, at the very least, people should have a beacon, a probe and a shovel.

“They definitely all accompany each other, one is fairly useless without the other," Larsen said. "So if you don't have a shovel and a probe, the beacon's not going to do you much good, and a shovel isn't going to do you much good if you're just shoveling randomly."

Larsen knows rescue gear really does save lives.

“I actually saw one in use once," he said. "I was with a guide, and he actually got caught in an avalanche, deployed his bag. We were able to get eyes on him."

Larsen says, despite all the fresh snow hype, he joins the Utah Avalanche Center in hoping people will pay attention to those avalanche warnings and be prepared.

“I’ve seen an airbag deployed, and after everything he was safe and healthy, and it was a pretty cool thing to see once he was OK,” Larsen said.

To learn more about avalanche prevention, what you can do to stay safe, or to sign up for a quick class to make sure you know what to look out for, click here.