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Officials warn Utahns about potential avalanches this weekend

WASATCH FRONT – The snow totals may not be anything to write home about.  Meteorologists say there was perhaps a foot in the Cottonwoods.  However, that doesn’t mean people going into the mountains this weekend shouldn’t worry about avalanches.

There are a couple of factors that officials are worried about for this weekend.  One, the winds.  Two, “This new snow, because it was kind of warm when it started, is fairly dense.  That makes a slab on top of the old snow, which is a weak layer. Now, we have the recipe for an avalanche if you’re on a steep slope,” according to Utah Avalanche Center Director Mark Staples.  One of the best preventative measures someone could take this weekend is fairly easy.  “The simple answer is to just make sure you’re on a slope less than 30 degrees,” Staples says.

Staples believes there doesn’t have to be a lot of snow on the mountains for the slides to be dangerous.  He says “It’s even worse now because the snowpack is so thin.  That avalanche is going to run you down the slope.  It could be 30-40 miles an hour, instantly, and it’s going to carry you over the rocks and the stumps,” adding that even if there isn’t enough snow to bury you, there is still enough to hurt you.

He also says it’s important that people remember many of the ski resorts are not open yet, so, if an avalanche happens, you’re on your own.  “Even if you’re hiking under a chairlift, that snowpack is just like it is in the backcountry.”

The basic gear for avalanches is essential, like shovels, probes, and beacons.  However, Staples says the most important thing anyone could take with them to the mountains is a partner.  The gear can help crews find your body, but the partner can help save your life.