Forecast for the Uintas Area Mountains

Issued by Craig Gordon for Tuesday, March 15, 2022
HEADS UP... nothing has changed -
Deceptively dangerous avalanche conditions exist for this time of year, especially on slopes facing the north half of the compass. Here's the catch... sunny skies, fresh snow, and outstanding late season riding lure us into thinking conditions are safer than they are and we're good to go. The snowpack isn't sharing our same emotions.
CONSIDERABLE avalanche danger exists today. Dangerously deep, human triggered avalanches are likely on all slopes (even well below treeline) facing NW, N, NE, and E, especially those with recent deposits of wind drifted snow. Any avalanche that breaks to old snow has the potential to deliver a devastating curve ball to your day.
A different avalanche dragon is found on slopes facing west and south near and above treeline where yesterday's storm snow could still be reactive to our additional weight. MODERATE avalanche danger is found on steep slopes where human triggered avalanches are POSSIBLE.
Looking for LOW avalanche danger? Well, then you've got plenty of options. Simply steer towards mid and lower elevation sunny slopes or choose a big, open meadow with no steep slopes above or adjacent to where you're riding.
Learn how to read the forecast here
Weather and Snow
A band of high, thin clouds drifted through the region overnight, putting a lid on temperatures which currently register in the upper teens and mid 20's. Southwest winds slowly ramped up at the turn of the new day and currently blow 20-25 mph near the high peaks. Yesterday's strong sunshine took its toll on the snow, especially low and mid elevation sunny slopes which are crusted and challenging. However, don't let your soft snow heart be troubled... riding and turning conditions remain quite good, especially on low angle sun sheltered slopes which are fast and fun. Get out and get after it before the sun beats you in the race against dry powder and damp glop.
The warm before a splitting storm moves into the area late in the day. Look for increasing clouds, temperatures climbing into the 40's, and southwest winds becoming obnoxious, blowing into the 40's by days end. A quick hit of moisture delivers 3"-5" of snow overnight with lingering snow showers into Wednesday.
Warm, dry weather is slated to round out the work week with storminess returning Sunday.
Trip reports and snowpack observations are found HERE.

Looking for real-time temps, snow, or wind? Click HERE and then on the "western Uinta" tab for western Uinta specific, weather station network.
Recent Avalanches
A very experienced snow-pro performing avalanche mitigation work was caught and carried in an avalanche yesterday in Upper Weber Canyon. Not a particularly big slide, just 2' deep and 40' wide, but the avalanche ran about 300' feet vertically and packed a punch. I'm grateful my friend and colleague deployed his airbag, came out on top, and is OK. A great write up with strong insight is found HERE.
No shortage of both natural and human triggered avalanches reported last weekend-

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Avalanche Problem #1
Persistent Weak Layer
This is the problem... avalanches are breaking from a distance and low on the slope like the avalanche in the image above which occurred yesterday afternoon on a north facing slope in Weber Canyon. It was triggered on an adjacent low angle slope, broke deep and wide, running into a group of trees and stacking up a surprising amount of bone snapping debris.
Some recent thoughts from boots on the ground-
"I can’t remember a time that I’ve seen more red flags in one ride. We observed widespread cracking and collapsing. Avalanches were easily triggered on any test slope steeper than 30 degrees. Snowpro, avy educator extraordinaire,Wasatch SAR member, pro sledder, and all around great guy Tyler St. Jeor states it best in his comment from Saturday.
"We were fooled by old tracks and a lack of signs of instability" (which is the nature of avalanches that fracture on persistent weak layers of facets.) Family involved in Saturday's close call near Humpy Peak
I'm still thinking through the incident and lessons to share but 2 critical errors that stand out to me are: I thought that I could manage the terrain to avoid the avalanche problem. I thought that the most likely place to trigger the avalanche would be high up on the slope and close to the ridge in one of the primary start zones. Snowpro and avy educator with a solid snow sense and impressive acumen, my friend and colleague Bo Torrey reflects on yesterday's avalanche in Upper Weber Canyon
Here's the deal-
Remember the big dryspell during January/February? (You're thinking to yourself... hmmm, "I forget what time I drop the kids off for soccer practice today.") Well, that midwinter drought helped create a weak layer of faceted, sugary snow which is now buried under several layers worth of storm snow from last week. And while we might forget everyday occurrences, the snowpack has an amazing memory. In fact, now that this layer is buried, it's our new problem child, or persistent weak layer (PWL).
Chads weekend viddy above illustrates the problem. We've got an unusual, late season, set up... strong snow on top of weak snow. And the weak layer is easily failing under our additional weight and will produce deep, dangerous avalanches today. Like a layer of dominoes with stronger snow resting on top, once our skis or track tip the first domino, it sets off a chain reaction in which all the dominoes (PWL) collapse. It's sorta like pulling the rug out from underneath, and the entire roof crashes down on us! Here's where it gets tricky... we don't even need to be on a steep slope, just near or connected to it (at the top, bottom, or to the side). Tip one of the dominoes over and now we're staring down the barrel of a scary avalanche!
What makes this situation tricky?
  1. We don't normally deal with long lasting avalanche problems like this, lingering deep into the winter. Today's avalanches act more like early and mid season slides that break on sugary snow near the ground except in this case avalanches will break in the middle of the snowpack. Avalanches may also break in areas below treeline where we don't often expect to see as many slides.
  2. You can trigger deep, dangerous avalanches by simply being near a steep slope but not necessarily on it.
  3. This weak layer is found on many slopes but not all, especially in the wind zone, where distribution is spotty and that makes stability patterns tricky to get a handle on. So... you might find weak snow on one part of a slope but not the other. This means you may see people ride a slope and not trigger a slide, but the second or third person on that same slope may be the one to trigger and avalanche.
What's the exist strategy? There are two options. Ride southerly facing slopes that don't have this weak layer, but the problem is they have a much thinner snowpack. Terrain facing the north half of the compass offers a deeper snowpack and cold powder, but likely have this weak layer and are unstable. In those areas, simply ride slopes less than 30 degrees in steepness with no overhead hazard... and that means nothing steeper above you.
Avalanche Problem #2
Wind Drifted Snow
A few older wind drifts that formed over the weekend linger in the high country and they may still be reactive to our additional weight. Pretty straight-forward and found mostly on leeward slopes in the wind zone above treeline, also be on the look out for a rogue drift or two around terrain features like chutes and gullies. The good news, it's an easy avalanche dragon to manage. Simply avoid fresh wind drifts that'll look fat and rounded or might sound hollow like a drum. Lose the wind and you lose the problem.
Additional Information
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General Announcements
The information in this forecast expires 24 hours after the day and time posted, but will be updated by 07:00 Wednesday, March 16th.
Before it gets too crazy, now is the time to book an avalanche awareness presentation for your group, club, or posse. You can reach me directly at 801-231-2170 or [email protected]
This forecast is from the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, which is solely responsible for its content. This forecast describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur.