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Avalanche experts share advice on keeping safe in Utah's backcountry

Posted at 4:21 PM, Jan 29, 2023

BRIGHTON, Utah — Ben Hilley is a backcountry recreator and one of the founders of the Beacon Bash Series: An event aimed at traveling to different mountain areas to each and practice avalanche safety skills.

"A lot of people have taken a level one or a rescue course, but they rarely hone those skills," he said. "We like to provide beacon parks where people can come out and practice single, multi-person burials, and try out new beacons."

Avalanche safety kits include a shovel, probe and beacon — all pivotal to saving your companion's life and something the instructors say you should never enter the backcountry without.

"Your beacon is what you're going to use to locate one of your partners that's been buried in an avalanche," Hilley said.

Hilley says he and his friends have been caught in avalanches before, and he's even lost friends due to backcountry avalanches. He says being in an avalanche is the worst-case scenario and the best thing you can do is control the controllable to prevent yourself from being caught in one.

"There's things you can't control, like the weather or the different avalanche issues that are out there, but you can always control your terrain choices," Hilley said.

Recreating backcountry is thrilling, but the varying terrain can also present safety concerns. On Saturday alone there were 25 avalanches, according to the Utah Avalanche Center. Six people were caught and only one was injured. Trent Meisenheimer with the Utah Avalanche Center says when an avalanche is smaller, the terrain is crucial, but when an avalanche is large, any terrain can be life-threatening.

"If we're in very steep terrain where a small avalanche could take us off a cliff or into rocks or trees, a small avalanche could be much more dangerous than an avalanche with a very smooth run out," Meisenheimer said.
"But if we're dealing with avalanches that are just so big and so large and so deep, the avalanche itself could be destructive enough to cause harm to humans."

So, with another storm moving in and fresh powder on the way, Meisenheimer and Hilley want people to recreate safely so they can return home.

"Right now, when we're getting this much snow, this much wind and this much weight, my advice right now would be to avoid avalanche terrain, so that means any slope bigger than 30 degrees," Meisenheimer said.

"There's always great skiing that's not avalanche danger," Hilley said.

The Utah Avalanche Center encourages anyone heading out this week to enjoy the fresh powder to first check out the full avalanche forecast at utahavalanchecenter.org.