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Utah's avalanche season was safe until 'wheels fell off the bus'

Posted at 7:18 PM, Jun 25, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah was enjoying a fairly mild avalanche season until the "proverbial wheels fell off the bus," according to a new report issued Tuesday.

The Utah Avalanche Center's report detailed how the 2023-24 season started by putting smiles on everyone's faces, but soon became deadly when conditions deteriorated due to heavy snowfall.

Overall, 902 avalanches were reported from the backcountry during the 150-day forecast season. Utah received 131% of its average snowfall, with the statewide snow water equivalent peaking at 18.8 inches on April 2.

"This past winter was another reminder why so many of us choose to live and play in this great state – not recordbreaking snowfall, but close! Enough snow to keep backcountry enthusiasts happy, but not so much that we couldn’t get out of our driveways," the report read.

The report shared how the mountains remained "mostly dry" until mid-October the first storm rolled through, followed by smaller storms which left 1-2 feet of snow. November conditions were similar to those in October, bringing a few storms "and things were shaping up for a potentially stable snowpack to remain in place," the report said.

A relatively mild December had the Utah Avalanche Center thinking "we had it made;" a feeling that ended in January when a high pressure system remained over the Intermountain West for three weeks.

"...we watched our snowpack morph into a thick layer of weak, faceted, sugary snow," the UAC wrote. "Snowfall returned around the second week of January and the proverbial wheels fell off the bus."

From mid-January on, avalanches were constant occurrences in the mountains thanks to poor snowpack structure. Over 300 avalanches were recorded during that period, with several people caught and buried before being rescued.

While it seemed Utah might get through the avalanche season without loss of life, two skiers, 23-year-old Utah resident Andrew Cameron and 32-year-old Austin Mallet of Montana, died in a May 9 avalanche in the area of Lone Peak Summit near Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Cameron and Mallet were the lone fatalities of the 2023-24 avalanche season.