In partnership with: Utah Division of State Parks and Recreation, The Friends of the Utah Avalanche Center, Utah Department of Emergency Services and Homeland Security and
“keeping you on top”
October 24, 2006 3:00 pm
This is the
about the annual backcountry gear swap sponsored by the Friends of the
Just because there are no regular advisories yet doesn’t mean that there are no avalanches. Fall snowstorms often create some of the most dangerous avalanche conditions of the season.
Here is a little primer on the avalanche conditions you can expect this fall until we start our regular forecasts around November 1st.
As you know, we’ve had several early season snowstorms and even some avalanches already. The sun is strong enough and the temperatures are still warm enough to melt the snow on most slopes with the important exception of the upper elevation shady slopes, for instance, northwest, north and northeast facing slopes above about 9,000’. This snow usually metamorphoses rapidly into very weak, sugary “faceted” snow, which is our most common and dangerous weak layer. This year, however, we have been lucky because the temperatures have remained warm and most of the snow is damp and has not rotted out very much. Still, on any slope that has snow, each new snow storm could slide on top of the pre-existing snow.
The bottom line is that with each snow or wind storm you need to carefully check how well the new snow is bonded to the underlying snow. You can easily do this by using test slopes, which are small, short slopes where the consequence of an avalanche are low. Just jump on them to see how they respond. You can also quickly dig down with your hand and isolate a small column of snow and pull on it to see how easily it breaks away.
Remember the ski resorts are not yet open, nor are they doing any avalanche control. So you have to treat them like backcountry terrain. In other words, your favorite slope that usually has moguls can easily slide and you need to cross them one at a time and never jump in when another party is below you. Every fall there are several close calls and occasional fatalities at unopened ski areas.
Finally, be sure to put fresh batteries in your beacon and do lots of practice scenarios before heading into dangerous terrain.
To find early season weather information, be sure to bookmark the National Weather Service page and you should regularly consult the Snow Page, (Alta Collins station is operating) the Satellite Imagery page (look at infrared Western U.S. 2km).
If there is anything we should know about, continue to let us know by calling (801) 524-5304 or 1-800-662-4140, email [email protected] or fax 801-524-6301
Well, good luck, stay on top and we’ll be talking with you on a regular basis soon.