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New snow makes for hazardous conditions in Utah’s backcountry

One of the avalanches on Kessler Peak in Big Cottonwood Canyon
Utah Avalanche Center
One of the avalanches on Kessler Peak in Big Cottonwood Canyon

This new snow means heightened danger in the backcountry.

Drew Hardesty with the Utah Avalanche Center said it had been so long since the Wasatch mountains had seen fresh snow, the snowpack developed what he calls a “P-W-L” – or “persistent weak layer.” So the new snow Tuesday, combined with east winds overnight, made for what he calls “tricky, unmanageable and dangerous” conditions.

"I don’t like it," he said. "We have a considerable danger at the mid and upper elevations on primarily west to north to east facing aspects.  I think it will be really tricky. These are going to be catch and carry conditions on many slopes out there. Now a lot of slopes are not going to be wind drifted but those that are are going to be particularly prone to triggering these avalanches down to that drought layer."

Hardesty says a few slides on Tuesday were “pocketed” – about 10-12 inches deep and 30-40 feet wide. One avalanche on Kessler Peak in Big Cottonwood Canyon was triggered by a skier who reported that he was about 9,600 feet high on the east face when the snow around him fractured. He reported he started to move with the snow, but he was close enough to the edge of the slide that he could jump to safety onto snow that wasn’t moving.

Hardesty recommends back country skiers stick to low-angled terrain to avoid avalanches.

The avalanche forecast changes daily. You can hear the latest conditions every morning on KPCW. On weekdays, the Utah Avalanche Center delivers their report during KPCW’s Local News Hour with Leslie Thatcher around 8:10 in the morning. And on weekend mornings you can hear them at 8:20.

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.