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Utah Avalanche Center expects another busy season

Utah Avalanche Center
With many more people now in the backcountry, experts say it could be another crowded winter on the slopes.

With Utah resorts beginning to open for the season, people are eager to get out on the slopes. After last season’s record-setting numbers, the Utah Avalanche Center is anticipating another eventful winter.

Last winter wasn’t just an all-time high for skiers and riders visiting Utah’s many ski resorts. It was also a record year for people interested in venturing out into the backcountry.

Utah Avalanche Center Forecaster Nikki Champion says the last two winters have been very busy, with both new users and backcountry veterans looking for both avalanche education and opportunities to get outside. She says the avalanche center expects that trend to continue this season.

“We expect to see another really busy year in the backcountry," Champion says. "We’re seeing avalanche courses, as we post them online, filling rapidly. We’ve seen all early-season areas, such as Grizzly Gulch and the uphill access at Alta being increasingly busy, and we kind of expect to see that trend continue over throughout the entire season.”

Although winter has been slow to arrive in Utah this year, Champion says some backcountry skiing is available now at higher elevations above 9,000-10,000 feet.

With the Wasatch getting an early-season storm in October, and not much since, Champion says the avalanche center has not started daily backcountry updates yet. The avalanche center will once there is enough snow to warrant them.

Champion says the lack of snow could also be worrying once the snow does come. A comparable weather pattern last winter created a very unstable snowpack in early 2021 that resulted in six avalanche deaths.

“It can maybe cause some trouble down the line for us looking at avalanches," she says. "We had a similar snowpack set up last year, where we got early-season snow and then had a period of cold, clear weather. What that does is it causes the snow that is sitting on the ground to weaken, and that will later become the base for our snowpack.”

Currently, the avalanche center is issuing a general caution warning in the backcountry until more snow accumulates. Champion says avalanches are still possible at higher elevations or where wind has built up snow in certain areas, but early-season conditions present another type of danger.

“Primarily, avalanches are unlikely right now," says Champion. "The main concern is trauma. It’s still shallow out there, and you want to make sure you don’t end your season early. Knowing what’s under the snow, taking it easy, easing into the season, even a small avalanche right now could be dangerous with how shallow the snowpack is from being swept over cliffs or rocks or something like that.”

The Utah Avalanche Center strongly encourages anyone interested in backcountry skiing and riding to get the proper safety gear and avalanche education before heading out.

More information on avalanches and avalanche education can be found here.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.