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Hikers stumble upon avalanche in Utah County

Posted at 5:30 PM, Feb 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-21 23:37:23-05

WOODLAND HILLS, Utah — A large avalanche has forced the closure of a popular hiking trail.

The Woodland Hills Switchback Trail usually welcomes visitors during every season, but winter activities are currently on hold after the discovery of the slide.

Two hikers stumbled upon the debris field Saturday morning.

“The land looked completely different. The trail looked different. We didn’t recognize the trail at all,” said David Cox, who was hiking with his wife. “My wife freaked out a bit because she was there the day before and it hadn’t happened yet.”

Cox and his wife captured images of the slide and immediately alerted city leaders.

“We don't necessarily consider that backcountry,” said Woodland Hills City Councilwoman Kari Malkovich. “That trail is used year-round, so I think we have a sense of safety — but it is a real risk.”

Utah County Emergency Management surveyed the damage with the help of a helicopter from the Utah Department of Public Safety.

They describe this incident as a large slide that started near the summit and ran most of the way down the mountain but did not reach the bottom. It is estimated at 200 yards wide.

The area has undergone mudslide mitigation due to the 2018 Pole Creek and Bald Mountain wildfires.

“We feel that may have slowed down the slide,” Malkovich said.

She remembers other avalanches occurring near Woodland Hills in 2005 and 2007.

For those who regularly enjoy the Switchback Trail, this incident is too close for comfort.

“I hadn’t seen one like this that was right in the path of everyday life,” Cox said. “It was very humbling and sobering to see that.”

It is unknown how long the trail will remain closed. However, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office is asking people to stay off the mountain because of instability.

Any damage done to the mudslide mitigation projects likely won’t be known until spring.