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Low-to-moderate danger doesn’t mean ‘no avalanche danger’

Posted at 10:01 PM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-16 00:38:28-04

Avalanche experts are reminding backcountry recreationists that changing weather conditions in mid-March can still trigger avalanches.

“It’s this time of year that we’ll see changing conditions throughout the day, so if you do start to see some of those red flags like the snow surface getting really wet or you’re seeing a lot of wind, it’s just time to pay attention, and conditions can change from the morning to the afternoon,” said Utah Avalanche Center forecaster Nikki Champion. “Even a small avalanche can have big consequences in consequential terrain.”

Four backcountry skiers were hoisted by Utah Department of Public Safety’s Aero Bureau on Sunday afternoon from an area near Pfeifferhorn, which is considered rugged backcountry terrain. According to Utah Avalanche Center’s preliminary report, the group was boot packing up the mountain when a wind slab gave out, triggering a small avalanche which pushed members of the group over a cliff band.

“There was still snow drifting, so the winds were still blowing, and we saw signs of wind-drifted snow," Champion said after observing the area on Monday. "What that can be is like pillow-shaped snow or obvious texture in the snow. When you walk on it, it can almost feel hollow so you can feel that wind drifted snow when you’re out there."

Avalanche danger ratings have decreased in many parts of the state of Utah, including the Salt Lake, Logan and Provo mountain areas.

“Even the low and moderate danger doesn’t mean no avalanche danger,” Champion cautioned. “It just means the size and distribution of the avalanches are going to be smaller, but that still means there could be a lot of small avalanches in isolated spots.”