Wasatch Cache National Forest

In partnership with: The Friends of the Utah Avalanche Center, Utah Department of Public Safety Division of Comprehensive Emergency Management,

Salt Lake County, and Utah State Parks:


To have this advisory automatically e-mailed to you each day free of charge, visit: http://www.mailermailer.com/x?oid=16351h          

For photos of avalanches and avalanche phenomenon, visit:  http://www.avalanche.org/%7Euac/photos_03-04.htm      (Updated 3/25)

Photos sent in by observers throughout the season visit:  http://www.avalanche.org/~uac/obphotos/observer.html      (Updated 4/2)

For a list of backcountry avalanche activity, visit:  http://www.avalanche.org/%7Euac/Avalanche_List.htm     (Updated 3/31)


Early morning preliminary information by about 6:00 am: 801-364-1591



Monday, April 12, 2004


Good morning, this is Drew Hardesty with the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center with this year’s end of season bulletin.  


This past winter came in like a lion and went out like a lamb (hoping this will be tempting the gods).  The Wasatch received over five hundred inches of snow with upper Little Cottonwood monthly totals for Nov-125”, Dec-151”, Jan-74”, Feb-130”, and Mar-62”.  The silver lining of a good early season and a marginal end, though, is that it effectively eliminated the formation of depth hoar at the base of the snowpack, something that plagued us in 2002-2003.  Even Bruce was bragging about not remembering the last time we’d had such good coverage and stable snow by the end of November.  So throw in a couple rain events, a couple dust storms, a few avalanche cycles, the obligatory January inversion and record breaking heat in March and you pretty much have the gist of the season. 


While we’ve issued our last daily advisory for the year, this doesn’t mean there won’t be any more avalanches.  It just means that the money has run out and most people would rather ride their bikes, work in the garden and go climbing than go skiing, boarding or snow-machining.  We’ll likely issue intermittent afternoon information through the rest of the spring, but more likely, you’re on your own, so here are some things to think about.

First, there’s a wealth of information available on the internet at the usual locations, such as the National Weather Service page (http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/Saltlake/).  You can click on the Snow and Avalanche section to look at the automated mountain weather stations.  Unfortunately, many of them will be shutting down soon, if they haven’t already, but Snowbird usually operates through the spring.  You can always check the temperatures and snow amounts on the SNOTEL sites at (http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/Saltlake/avalanche/snotel/indexWorkArea.html) and we also have a link from our web site at www.avalanche.org - click on Salt Lake then Snow and Weather.

Nowcasting for the spring comes down to wet avalanches, avalanches associated with new snow, and then glide avalanches.  To figure out whether or not the snow has frozen overnight, it’s not quite as simple as just looking at the temperatures: you’ll need to gauge temperatures with cloud cover and relative humidity.  But as a general rule with clear skies, if the overnight low in Salt Lake City is 45, it’s frozen in the mountains, a Salt Lake low of 50 means a shallow freeze and 55 and above means no freeze.  As always, once the snow becomes unsupportable and wet activity is occurring, you’ve overstayed your welcome and it’ll be time to head to a different aspect or elevation.

Generally speaking, wet slab avalanches occur when a cold, dry snowpack first warms up to freezing and water begins to percolate through the snowpack.  This occurs in early spring on south facing slopes, in mid spring on east and west facing slopes and in late spring on upper elevation north facing slopes.  They often happen after three nights where the snowpack did not freeze combined with strong melting during the day.  Another form of wet slab avalanche is a glide avalanche, which means the entire snowpack slides slowly on the ground, kind of like a glacier until they release catastrophically.  These usually happen on steep rock slabs such as in Broad’s Fork and Stairs Gulch (photos of these can be found on our website).  They can happen any time of day and are most likely to occur during very warm conditions and they can easily happen just after a freeze at the end of a warm period. 

Finally, when the inevitable freak spring storms come, you’ll have to worry about the usual round of new snow sluffs and soft slab avalanches just like in mid-winter.  As always, avoid steep slopes with recent deposits of wind drifted snow and remember that when the sun comes out, wet loose avalanches occur like clockwork.  Most every spring, there are several close calls at the resorts that are closed for the season.  People are used to those slopes being safe because the ski patrol does avalanche control, but by spring, you’ll have to treat this terrain just like any other backcountry location. 

Backcountry snow and avalanche information is still useful to us.  So if you’re still getting out and see anything of interest, leave us a message at 524-5304, 1 800-662-4140, drop us an email at [email protected], or a fax to 524-6301.  Bruce, Evelyn, Andrew, Craig, and I want to thank our Friends, observers and supporters for another great season.  We couldn’t do it without your help.  See you next fall.