Forecasters warn of early season slides after man partially buried in avalanche

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The resort isn't close to open, but Alta Ski Resort's parking lot was packed Wednesday. Fresh snow and clear blue skies made for a great day to hike up and carve some turns.

But, those conditions have avalanche forecasters keeping an eye out.

"I won't be surprised to hear about a human-triggered avalanche this afternoon," said avalanche forecaster Brett Kobernik, who is with the U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center.

And, he was right. Just hours later, he discovered a small, human-triggered avalanche in Upper Little Cottonwood Canyon.

Kobernik found out later that evening that someone was caught and drug downhill in the slide before ending up partially buried. He said that person wasn't injured, but it happened right next to a section of rocky cliff.

"There's very little snow cover, there's a lot of rocks, and even a small avalanche can push you into rocks or stumps, or whatever is lurking under snow," he said.

That's why small, early season slides can become dangerous: The comparatively small amount of snow leaves a lot of room for injury.

The culprit for avalanches like that, Kobernik said, is a weak layer of facets from a previous storm that sit under a new layer of snow that fell this week.

He said the weak layer makes it easier for the layer on top to crack. Kobernik was also concerned about where these slides could break.

"It's the exact spot where folks are going to go to, because it's the spots that have the most snow," he said.

That's why he couldn't stress enough the importance of packing the proper gear--like an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel.

Kobernik also advised taking an avalanche safety course.

On top of that, he said it's crucial to check the avalanche forecast before hitting the backcountry.

The Utah Avalanche Center rated the current danger as moderate in the Salt Lake area mountains and Skyline area mountains on Wednesday, warning of the possibility of avalanche activity above the tree line.

Kobernik added that every area, including what's inside Alta's bounds, should be considered backcountry until the ski lifts are up and running.

To see the daily avalanche reports by the Utah Avalanche Center, click here.