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High avalanche danger in Utah backcountry due to weak snowpack layer

Posted at 5:08 PM, Jan 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 19:52:53-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Avalanche Center reports an elevated avalanche risk this weekend for those heading out to the backcountry.

In the past week, 30 avalanches have been reported to the center in the backcountry near the Salt Lake region.

WATCH: Man dies in Park City backcountry avalanche

Avalanche forecaster Greg Gagne said the conditions make it easy for an avalanche to be triggered.

"It’s been really windy in the mountains," Gagne said.

Below the snowpack is a thin layer of what Gagne calls "sugar."

READ: Sundance Mountain Resort closes temporarily due to avalanche

He says because we received some snow in early November, but then it didn't snow for a while, it rotted into weak "sugary" snow.

At high elevations, one can find about 4-5 feet of snow, but Gagne said it's below that snow where there is a layer of 2-3 feet of the sugary stuff.

"The weak snow at the foundation cannot support the snow piling on top," Gagne said.

These conditions, Gagne said, are a recipe for an avalanche accident.

WATCH: Avalanche caught on camera in Little Cottonwood Canyon

If heading out to the backcountry, Gagne said to avoid climbing up or going underneath slopes that are 30 degrees or steeper.

"There are plenty of places where you can safely travel in the backcountry: in meadows, in low-angled, gentle tree terrain," he said.

Gagne added that the remainder of Utah's winter could see elevated avalanche dangers.