Forecaster Blogs

Blog: Shame and the Social Contract - 01/14/2017 - Drew Hardesty
Originally published in this winter's hardcopy issue of Ascent, the Backcountry Snow Journal Not long ago, I heard a story from an old colleague of mine. It was his first year as an avalanche professional and he was out in the field with his supervisor. The two of them approached the top of the ridge and peered onto the slope below. It was snowing and visibility was not good. Still, they had seen avalanches run for most of the day. “I’ve never seen this slide before,” said the old hand, “why don’t you go first?” My pal shrugged his shoulders and dove in. Minutes later, after the boss...


Blog: Press Release January 7, 2017 - 01/7/2017 - Utah Avalanche Center
January 7, 2017   Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center Issues Avalanche Warning for Northern and Central Utah, Warns of Roof-Avalanches and Low Elevation Avalanche Danger.   SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH –   Expected heavy snow and strong winds will create dangerous avalanche conditions over the next several days.  Natural and human triggered slides will be certain on many steep slopes where the danger is expected to reach HIGH or EXTREME.  Those without expert level avalanche skills should avoid being on or underneath steep slopes…or avoid the backcountry altogether.  It should be noted that those...


Blog: #Nothing Bad Happened - 12/24/2016 - Drew Hardesty
I cribbed the name from an essay by Iain Stewart-Patterson, a mountain guide and faculty staff member of Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia.  His dissertation:  The Role of Intuition in the Decision Process of Canadian Ski Guides.  You can find his essay in a recent issue of The Avalanche Review, the publication of the American Avalanche Association here (page 18). I imagine most of you reading this are familiar with the very close call in the Birthday Chutes from last Monday.  I've added Mark White's photo below and the full accident investigation report by Mark Staples, Greg...


Blog: Week in Review: Monday Nov 28 - Friday Dec 02 - 12/2/2016 - Hardesty
Below, you'll see the trends of the danger rose from Monday through Friday.  An Avalanche Watch was issued Sunday afternoon.  This evolved into a Special Avalanche Advisory by Monday morning along with a HIGH avalanche danger.   Weather synopsis: A three-tiered storm arrived from the northwest last Saturday night, lasting through early Tuesday, more than doubling the amount of snow on the ground at that time.  Winds have remained generally light to moderate out of the northwest and continued to veer to the northeast as the most recent storm moved through and dived south.  Temps have remained...


Blog: New Avalanche Explosives Work Backcountry Closure Procedures Going Into Effect - 11/28/2016 - Paul Diegel
The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is implementing a revised policy for backcountry closures in Little Cottonwood Canyon this winter to help get SR 210 open quickly and safely, keep it open, and to reduce the likelihood of backcountry travelers exposed to avalanche explosives work. UDOT has thousands of people waiting on them to reduce the avalanche hazard and safely open the road and the sighting of a single person or even evidence of a person near their artillery targets can delay opening for hours. For this reason, they will be enforcing a complete closure of all backcountry in...


Blog: Understanding and managing depth hoar - 10/19/2016 - Eric Trenbeath
When the first significant storm paints the peaks white and we're getting stoked for winter, it's time to start thinking about how that first layer will affect snowpack stability during the upcoming season. In a perfect world, it will keep right on dumping and we'll be ripping deep, stable snow by Christmas. But, as is often the case, we could see a return of high pressure, and then we'll be left with snowed in bike trails, cold crags, and a rotting foundation for our snowpack. When shallow snow sits on the ground under cold clear skies it begins to transform, or metamorphose into a pile of...


Blog: The Wisdom of Elbert Despain - 03/23/2016 - Ed LaChapelle as relayed by Drew Hardesty
From Ed LaChapelle's essay The Ascending Spiral in The Avalanche Review 24.1 (photo credit -Wilburn and Jean Pickett Photograph Collection, University of Utah Marriott library archives)  “Do nothing in haste”......this speaks loud and clear to the pressures of time, planning and economics, plus the perpetual urge to action that drives so much of our modern life. Here is where the human factor in avalanche-related decisions comes to the fore. And this brings us to Elbert’s Rule. When I first worked at Alta in the 1950’s, the daily mail was brought up the Little Cottonwood Canyon road by...


Blog: Dry snow, hot weather, and facets - 03/20/2016 - Mark Staples
Ever wonder how the snow on north aspects can stay cold and dry during such warm weather? There is a big difference between air temperature and snow surface temperature. This is why the snow can refreeze even on relatively warm nights if the skies are clear. Snow loses heat very efficiently to clear skies at night then warms during the day as air temperatures warm. See the graph below showing air temperature vs snow temperature along Bunnells Ridge (8800') just south of Provo Canyon during the last 2 days. Notice that snow temperatures at night got as low as 6 degrees F then warmed to 32...


Blog: Expert Intuition and the Avalanche Problem - 02/18/2016 - Drew Hardesty
Not long ago, I was invited to give a talk on any subject of my choice to a Level 3 avalanche class with the American Avalanche Institute.  The owners of AAI and I have known each other for 15-20 years.  They should have known better.   So. The night before, I had the Level 3 participants - all experienced snow and avalanche professionals in their own right - think of a time when an avalanche surprised them.   The next morning, I began by showing them a clip of risk reduction researcher Gordon Graham talking about what he calls High Risk, Low Frequency events.  You should watch it.  15...


Blog: Do Safety Devices Make Us Safer? - 02/17/2016 - Bruce Tremper
  When I wrote the blog on the effectiveness of avalanche airbags, I was surprised that most of the comments revolved around risk homeostasis. So what the heck is risk homeostasis?  Let me tell you a little story…. I was just a youngster, around 5 years old, at the family cabin on Flathead Lake in Montana where we spent all our summers growing up.  My mother had just purchased a newfangled substance—mosquito repellent—and she sprayed it on my exposed skin and explained that the “buggies wouldn’t bite me anymore.”  Wow, I remember thinking.  What an amazing, magical substance.  Of course, the...


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