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‘We have a hidden dragon up there’: Utah dealing with unprecedented avalanche danger

Posted at 9:53 PM, Feb 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 00:10:26-05

BOUNTIFUL, Utah — There have been five avalanche deaths in the Western region of the United States in the last week. This brings the total of avalanche deaths in U.S. in 2021 to 30.

Six of those deaths are from Utah, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Almost one-third of the deadly avalanches across the U.S. so far in 2021 have been triggered by snowmobilers.

READ: Snowmobiler killed in avalanche in Bear Lake County, Idaho

The avalanche conditions in Utah are unprecedented, Utah Snowmobile Association President Cal Taylor said.

“It looks all white, all good like it does every other year. Last year was great — we had good snow, and it looks the same. That is the hardest part,” he said.

READ: Four skiers killed in Millcreek Canyon avalanche

People need to take extra precautions, and there are just places people shouldn’t be going in the backcountry this year, Taylor said.

“We have the ability to control where we play, and this is just a year that we have to stay away from the steep mountain,” he said.

READ: Family in Utah and Montana remember snowmobiler killed in Sawtooth Forest, Idaho avalanche

Places that normally wouldn’t be sliding are sliding, according to Utah Snowmobile Association education director Kirk Chester.

“This year we just need to back off. Mother Nature is sending us a pretty clear signal,” he said.

READ: UDOT workers safe after being hit by Little Cottonwood Canyon avalanche

It’s been 20 years, but Jason Peacock can’t help but think of the avalanche he got caught in back in 2001 every time he hears about a deadly avalanche or even when he gets on his snowmobile.

“We were just out snowmobiling and got stuck in a chute, and all the sudden we felt the snow give up above us and we all just got caught in the chute,” he said.

Unfortunately, not everyone made it back home.

“I was able to get myself out, and then after a little while I was able to find the other guys, but it was too late,” he said.

Being caught in an avalanche is hard to even describe, but it is terrifying, Peacock said.

“The force of those slides is just unbelievable. No one knows until you’re actually in one, how powerful they actually are,” he said.

Click here for more information on the Utah Avalanche Center.

Click here for more information on the Utah Snowmobile Association.