Forecast for the Uintas Area Mountains

Issued by Craig Gordon for Sunday, March 20, 2022
Today you'll find MODERATE avalanche danger and human triggered avalanches are POSSIBLE, but for two very distinct avalanche dragons.
First the manageable... as the storm evolves, fresh drifts near and above treeline will become more reactive to our additional weight and may break a bit deeper and wider than you might expect. Next, the unmanageable... avalanches breaking 2'-3' deep and failing on our persistent weak layer, may be a bit more stubborn to trigger, but they'll pack a powerful punch, especially in terrain near and above treeline on slopes facing NW-N-NE-E.
Slopes facing the south half of the compass at mid and low elevations offer LOW avalanche danger and human triggered avalanches are unlikely.

Scroll to the bottom for a note on slope angle and how to have a blast without entering avalanche terrain.
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Weather and Snow
Thickening overnight clouds draped our mountains and produced the first thin coat of white paint with most areas only reporting a trace to a couple traces of snow early this morning (3:00 am). Southerly winds picked up right around lunchtime, blowing in the 30's for most of Saturday, with a few overnight gusts into the 50's near the high peaks. Current temperatures register in the upper 20's and low 30's. It's gonna be a bit rugged out there this morning, so maybe get a few chores done and let a little more snow stack up before heading to your nearest trailhead.
Strong southerly winds usher in a quick hitting storm along with colder temperatures and the entire package arrives in the next couple hours. Not a big storm, but we should see 4"-8" of snow stack up by days end. Winds switch to the northwest early this morning and begin tapering off and blowing a more reasonable 20-30 mph along the high ridges. We've most likely hit our high temperatures for the day and they'll be falling into the teens and low 20's by days end.
Cold and clear weather kicks off the work week with a gradual warming trend slated by Wednesday.
As for snow conditions- we took the old school bus out for a few laps and found you've gotta be on your game this time of the year as 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
No significant avalanche activity to report from the past few days and most avalanche activity occurred last weekend (links to some of those slides below).

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Avalanche Problem #1
Persistent Weak Layer
Ted's image above from his travels yesterday around Millcreek illustrate our problem, a persistent weak layer (PWL) buried underneath about 2 feet of snow. It's a stronger snow on weaker snow combo and that setup is causing the increase in avalanche activity. And while recent warm weather is helping our new problem child adjust, gain a little strength, and become happy in its own skin, it hasn't gone away. What this means is that the likelihood of triggering an avalanche on this layer has decreased somewhat, but we know the safest approach is to assume the PWL remains guilty until proven otherwise.
Where does this weak layer exists? The bullseye locations are basically all slopes with dry powder near and slightly below treeline today. Above treeline, the PWL is not as uniform and 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 exist but the riding conditions are variable. Or, (2) ride northerly facing slopes with dry powder but avoid being on or under any slope steeper than 30 degrees.
Ted and I were grabbed the video below, recapping the snow structure from our field day in upper Chalk Creek Thursday.
Avalanche Problem #2
Wind Drifted Snow
Above is a 24 hour data dump from Windy Peak (10,662') showing recent wind trends.
A few shallow drifts formed overnight, but with continued winds and more snow on the way, I expect drifting will become more widespread throughout the morning hours. As the day progresses, fresh drifts may break slightly deeper and wider than you might expect and could pack a punch by days end. You know the drill... look for and avoid any fat, rounded piece of snow, especially if it sounds hollow like a drum. Lose the wind and you lose the problem... simply lose some elevation and you'll avoid get pounded by the wind and score some quality riding to boot!
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.
Some recent thoughts about the current state of the snowpack-
  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 last 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 occur. 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.

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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 Monday, March 21st.
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.