How does warmer weather affect avalanche danger in Utah’s backcountry?


SALT LAKE CITY – This winter has been a rollercoaster of snowstorms between long stretches of dry days.

But does this pattern create dangerous conditions in the Utah backcountry?

Winter sports and outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the warm temperatures this weekend, but this heat can wreak havoc on the snowpack.

Craig Gordon of the Utah Avalanche Center says the state was lucky to have such a wet December.

“It seems so far away, but it set us up for a nice, rugged, solid, stable snowpack,” he said.

That Christmas present of a blizzard has allowed the base snow to create conditions below the surface to protect against larger avalanches – but that doesn’t mean they still can’t happen.

“I think things are going to be a little tricky, especially if we put some heavier snow on top of that light snow that’s near the surface,” Gordon said.

With a series of small storms expected next week, the new snow may create what they call “near-surface facets.”

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“It’s the language of avalanche connoisseurs for low, sweet snow,” Gordon explained. “Once we start putting extra layers of snow on top, we’ll see some spicy conditions.”

This means that the light snow on top sits on a table and can slide off easily. You might think of it like oil on a non-stick skillet – although it may seem steady, the slightest spike can send that sugary snow rolling down the side of a mountain.

“The good news here, though, is that it’s super predictable because we’re just going to be dealing with the new snow old snow UI, not what broke out earlier in the season,” Gordon said.

But although these landslides are not as big as some avalanches, they are still dangerous.

“While we are aiming for, maybe some backcountry adventures, know that you are definitely going to have softer snow,” Gordon warned. “But also remember that in this adventure we also have to take some personal responsibility. We have to check in with the latest avalanche update for the area we plan to ride in.”

Those considering venturing into the backcountry should be prepared for all conditions and take appropriate measures to stay safe.

“We have to be prepared for our own rescue, but the biggest ticket is avalanche avoidance – back to the trailhead, back to the lift, high-five to our friends, family or partners , and come home safely to our family,” Gordon said.

He also tells adventurers that staying within local station boundaries is always the best bet to avoid an avalanche. And while the artificial snow that some of them use may seem “more scratchy”, it is actually monitored and created to create the best conditions for safety.

The latest avalanche forecasts can be found on the UAC websiteas well as information on equipment and other resources needed to stay safe in the backcountry.


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