Forecast for the Uintas Area Mountains

Mark Staples
Issued by Mark Staples for
Friday, March 18, 2022
Don't let the drop in avalanche danger fool you. On all NW-N-NE-E facing terrain as well as upper elevation SE facing slopes, the danger is MODERATE which means human triggered avalanches remain possible.
HOWEVER, the exact likelihood of triggering a slide varies A LOT from one slope to the next. On one slope you may not be able to buy an avalanche, while another slope may avalanche the instant you come near it. The danger rating is an overall average and does a poor job of conveying this variability.

On slopes generally facing south and receiving direct sunshine, the avalanche danger is LOW.
Scroll to the bottom for a note on slope angle and how to ride fun terrain without entering avalanche terrain.
Learn how to read the forecast here
Weather and Snow
This morning, skies are mostly cloudy with low temperatures in the mountains in the teens F. Light westerly winds at upper elevations are only blowing 10 mph gusting to 14 mph. At lower elevations winds are calm.
Skies will be clearing today, and temperatures will quickly climb into the upper 20s F. Winds around noon may pick up a little bit.
Clouds and warm south winds arrive on Saturday. A cold front moves over the area around midday Sunday bringing a drop in temperatures and 2-4 inches of snow by Monday morning.
As for snow conditions, Craig put it best in his observation from upper Chalk Creek yesterday saying "the sun is high in the sky and it has baked all but the most northerly facing slopes in the alpine. But don't let your soft snow heart be troubled, there are large swaths of shallow, cold snow... just don't stray too far off aspect or you'll be dealing with varying degrees of breakable crust."
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
Most avalanche activity occurred last weekend (links to some of those slides below). The tail end of this week has been quiet and that is a function fewer people (aka triggers) as well as a slight decrease in sensitivity of the buried persistent weak layer.

Your input is vital and we're interested in what you're seeing. Please contribute to this great community resource and go here to fill out an observation.
Avalanche Problem #1
Persistent Weak Layer
The image above shows the persistent weak layer (PWL) underneath about 2 feet of snow that has been causing most recent avalanches. Despite recent warm weather it hasn't gone away and has only become a little less weak. What this means is that the likelihood of triggering an avalanche on this layer has gone down (thus the danger level has decreased). However the layer remains, and I still don't trust it.
Where does this weak layer exists? It can be found across a wide range of aspects and elevations shown in the aspect/elevation diagram (or "rose") above. The bullseye locations are basically all slopes with dry powder near and slightly below treeline today. Above treeline, this layer is a little more pockety in distribution. The scary part about this situation is that this layer and it's ability to produce avalanches is variable.
How to avoid it? There are two options. (1) Ride south facing slopes where this layer doesn't exists but the riding conditions aren't the best. Or, (2) ride northerly facing slopes with dry powder but avoid being on or under any slope steeper than 30 degrees.
Craig gives an excellent description of current conditions in the video below from his field day in upper Chalk Creek yesterday with Ted.
Additional Information
The current avalanche situation is tricky and unusual for this time of year:
Even though snow conditions can change rapidly in the spring (ie - powder one day to wet or crusty snow the next), what makes the current situation unusual is that avalanche conditions are not changing quickly.
  1. "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.
  2. "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.
  3. 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.

Slope angle determines where avalanches can happen and where they can't. Generally, any slope steeper than 30 degrees is where avalanches can happen. This means all you need to do is ride slopes less than 30 degrees in steepness and you'll never have to deal with avalanches.
There's a catch! You can't be underneath slopes steeper than 30 degrees either, even if you're on a flat slope, because avalanches can crash down on you. It turns out that skiing or riding slopes about 25 degrees in steepness is really fun and even more fun because there's no worry of avalanches. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of practice to estimate slope angles with your eyes alone. The way to get practice and the only way to know for sure is to measure slope angles with slope measuring tool shown in the photo below, and Toby describes it in this video. There are also many apps so that you can use your phone in a similar manner.

Your observations are important, so please let me know what you're seeing... click HERE and contribute to this amazing community based program
General Announcements
The information in this forecast expires 24 hours after the day and time posted, but will be updated by 07:00 Saturday, March 17th.
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.