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Utah Avalanche Center says current backcountry conditions “high risk, low reward”

Avalanche Risk
Utah Avalanche Center
There is considerable avalanche risk throughout Utah this weekend.

The Utah Avalanche Center says although it's springtime in the mountains, that poses a new risk: wet loose avalanches.

Most people associate avalanches with fresh snow, but it’s important to remember that avalanche risk can persist throughout the winter and well into spring if the conditions are right. According to the Utah Avalanche Center, now is one of those times.

Record-high temperatures for this time of year combined with an inconsistent snowpack have resulted in a considerable avalanche danger across all of northern Utah in all directions and at all elevations.

Avalanche forecaster Drew Hardesty says when spring’s normal freeze-thaw cycle gets disrupted with warm overnight temperatures, the snow doesn’t have a chance to stabilize. The water from melting snow will begin to settle between snow layers, dissolving the bonds that hold the layers together, and causing what are called “wet loose” avalanches.

He says these are classic “high risk, low reward” conditions.

Hardesty says wet loose avalanches are very unpredictable and not entirely understood. A lot of what factors into them has to do with the temperature of both the air and the snow, as well as how quickly the snow is melting and where that water is flowing beneath the surface. None of those are easily measured.

Hardesty says, “It's rare for me to say this, but based on snow, weather, and avalanche conditions, I don't recommend skiing or riding in the backcountry this weekend.”

Hardesty reminds people that wet avalanche debris sets like concrete almost immediately after it stops moving, making rescuing an avalanche victim very difficult.

Wet loose avalanches are likely to be triggered throughout Utah as long as this weather pattern persists. Cooler weather is expected to pass through Utah starting on Monday, potentially bringing below-freezing overnight temperatures with it, which would help stabilize the snowpack.