Blog: Forecast Addendum - Dec 16, 2015

Brett Kobernik
Forecaster, Website Coordinator

There is lots going on with the snow, weather and avalanche danger right now.

Looking at this from a backcountry powder skiers perspective, I don't like it. The older snow from November has become so weak that it is not going to allow me to get onto my favorite steep slopes for quite some time. I was fairly optimistic until about a week and a half ago when I finally had to admit defeat. The the old faceted snow has progressed to the stage that it's going to cause problems. Now we are loading it up and it seems inevitable that we'll see avalanches. It is going to take a good amount of time before I feel comfortable getting into my favorite terrain. I have come to the realization that I will need to stay on lower angle slopes until this weak layer (hopefully) stabilizes sometime in the future. With enough snow, it is possible that this situation will pass but we will surely see a good avalanche cycle in the meantime.

Looking at this from a forecaster's perspective is no better. This is the type of conditions where accidents happen. A weak layer of faceted snow or the "Persistent Slab" avalanche problem is the cause of the majority of avalanche fatalities in Utah. You cannot trust this set up. We have only seen hints of instability so far. This is mainly due to the lack of any significant wind with the last couple of storms. We have added 2 to 3 feet of snow with 1 to 2 inches of water weight. We have enough snow and weight to cause serious avalanches, we just don't quite have the right slab on top of the weak layer yet. Some wind and continued snow accumulations will most likely do the trick.

We're going to see some wind later today and tonight. This alone may be enough to start seeing avalanching in the backcountry. We'll also be adding some more snow. The danger will most likely increase over the next couple of days.

There haven't been all that many people prowling around during the recent storm. Shallow conditions, poor weather and difficult travel have dissuaded people. However, all the new snow is getting people excited to get into the mountains. I see a decent day weather wise shaping up for Saturday and I fear that the combination of eager people, good weather and a dangerous snowpack is going to be the recipe for an accident.

Get the word out that we have a very serious situation right now.

<p>Well-said Kowboy. I&#39;ve talked with a few people already who have commented &quot;someone is going to get killed in an avalanche before Christmas&quot;. We need frank language like this to make people aware just how precarious it is right now. The skiing is great in non-avalanche terrain on lower-angled slopes and there is no need to stick your neck out. The storm has also filled in lower and mid elevations so there is suddenly a whole bunch of moderate terrain that is skiable.</p>
Wed, 12/16/2015
<p>Yes Brett well said. From both perspectives.</p> <p>I was a bit sarcastic with my ob from the other day but it is true. IF you dig a had pit what do you think your gonna find? It is pretty much the same everywhere. So dont try to talk yourself into thinking you&#39;ve found the one<span style="line-height:1.6em">slope</span><span style="line-height:1.6em"> that is perfect with no </span>factes<span style="line-height:1.6em"> on it in the Wasatch. It does not exist.</span></p> <p>Please repost this when we get another inch or two of water on top of this junk so people do not forget. This problem is not going away any time soon.</p>
Wed, 12/16/2015
Great Post. Given the situation we have this is a perfect tone. Great time to brush up on some safety skills and dig some pits to see whats going on.
Wed, 12/16/2015
Thanks Kow, these light density, low wind storms just didn't overload that weak snow, now that layer will distribute the load and allow a bigger, deeper slab to build. Stay vigilant out there folks!
Jake Hutchinson
Wed, 12/16/2015
Brett, Thanks for the extra work, but please add some red dots at least since you are saying that conditions are much closer to HIGH than considerable. Red gets peoples attention more that orange. Especially since you said there was a bullet in the chamber.
Jeff Rhoads
Wed, 12/16/2015
Is this only a concern for backcountry terrain, and not the main areas of the resorts? Thanks.
Wed, 12/16/2015
<p>If u ski in bounds you should not worry</p>
Wed, 12/16/2015
Only the backcountry. The resorts do avalanche control work, and they get skier compaction on all the open slopes as well. Its interesting to note that resorts like Alta used to pay skiers to sidestep most of the resort, preseason, to eliminate this sort of deep facet problem; but nowadays, volunteers put tracks on most of Alta before they open, for free :-).
Bill Hunt
Wed, 12/16/2015
Be sure to know the ski resort boundaries at the resort you ski at. I often run into folks who have a misguided understanding between rope lines and ski resort boundary lines. When in doubt as your local ski patrol.
Dave Coyne
Wed, 12/16/2015
We took your recommendation and skied the partial run on Will's hill. Stellar. In addition to avalanche danger, there is considerable risk of injury from skiing these low snow conditions. Getting down Willow was a "clothes lining" event through the brush, etc.
John Woeste
Wed, 12/16/2015
<p>I am in agreement that&nbsp;Wx&nbsp;and widespread very weak snow are lining up perfectly with a probable huge increase in potential triggers and/or accidents... &nbsp;</p> <ul> <li>Local schools are out through the remainder of the year tomorrow (12-18015)&nbsp;! &nbsp;</li> <li>It is only just now becoming possible to ride a sled off-trail in the mountains. &nbsp;&nbsp;</li> <li>As in most areas across the state, 99.8% of avalanche terrain in the Logan Zone remains&nbsp;untracked&nbsp;and untested for the season since the&nbsp;snowpack&nbsp;has been so shallow and rotten.</li> </ul> <p>&nbsp;Problem is, the slow and unevenness of the slab formation. &nbsp; Avalanche conditions will only get more dangerous as things progress! &nbsp; &nbsp;You&#39;ll agree that in the next couple days or weeks as a slab builds and hardens, we&#39;re likely to see a significant increase in the geographical scope and avalanche likelihood, as well as the size and destructiveness of the likely avalanches. &nbsp; The danger can only go up, and it&#39;s got a ways to go!</p>
Thu, 12/17/2015
As the mother of the first Colorado avalanche fatality on New Years Eve 2013 please think about what you do. My holidays are forever destroyed by the loss of my son. Think about your loved ones (mother, father, sister, brother, children, etc) your death will kill a part of them that will never recover. PLEASE be careful out there. Every avalanche fatality brings it all home with a vengeance again.
Lisa Dirth
Thu, 12/17/2015
<p>Great comments people, hopefully we&#39;re getting the word out. &nbsp;The snowpack really showed it&#39;s cards today with numerous avalanches through the Central Wasatch as well as the Manti Skyline. &nbsp;Some of these were natural, some were human triggered from a distance. &nbsp;Things will remain touchy through the weekend and we are still anticipating another storm next week. &nbsp;</p>
Thu, 12/17/2015
What has me really thinking conservative is the report from USA Bowl, shooting cracks and collapsing on 27 degrees says a lot. It may be a weekend to just tour up to Dog Lake for a nice picnic and then bobsled run back to the car.
Fri, 12/18/2015