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Experts react to massive avalanche in Uintas that buried snowmobilers

Posted at 10:58 PM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-10 00:58:05-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Snowmobilers remotely triggered a massive avalanche in the Moffit Basin area of the Uintas on Saturday. The slide was caught on camera by one of the riders and shared on social media showing how it partially buried four riders.

“This avalanche looks like a freight train like a locomotive barreling down the mountain,” said Utah Avalanche Center Forecaster Craig Gordon, reacting to the video of the slide. “I think it’s a surreal moment where the riders themselves are trying to wrap their brains around the power of this thing.”

The slide was unintentionally triggered by a group of snowmobilers riding below the steep slope. Gordon visited the slide area on Monday to complete an investigation.

“These riders are super, super lucky that they were positioned where they were so it’s at the toe of the debris, where the debris fans out, had they been any other place on the slope this would have had a devastating outcome,” said Gordon.

The riders had avalanche gear with them but many weren’t able to deploy it.

Gordon estimates the slide was roughly 1,500 feet in width and perhaps the largest avalanche of the year in Utah.

“It looked like something out of the movies, something we don’t normally get to see all the time is this big billowing cloud of snow, overtaking trees,” said Cal Taylor, President of the Utah Snowmobile Association. “That’s a perfect scenario of how fast these avalanches are.”

Taylor wants to stress how important it is for all backcountry users to have avalanche gear, know how to use it and to check avalanche forecasts before heading out.

“You’ve got stay off those steep slopes, there is plenty of terrain to play on that’s low angle,” stressed Taylor. “When the next storm comes there’s going to be new snow but that weak layer is still there, we’ve just got to stay off the steep stuff this year it’ll be there next year.”

Numerous snowmobilers had ‘close calls’ this past weekend in the backcountry. UAC and USA have avalanche courses and resources available for backcountry users to brush up on safety skills.