‘If there’s snow, it could happen’: Avalanche experts warn Utahns to gear up for busy season

LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON, Utah – Early snow added urgency to the annual avalanche control meeting, prompting experts to push for preparedness.

In a blur of white, Utah’s backcountry got an early taste of winter Tuesday.

“We’re all getting amped up!” said Tracy Christensen, Wasatch Backcountry Rescue’s president.

But where there’s snow, there’s danger.

“The backcountry, it’s very unforgiving,” said Sgt. James Blanton with the Unified Police Department Canyon Patrol.

During any given winter season, Utah sees dozens of avalanches – last year four of which were fatal. It only takes a few inches of snow to prompt a slide.

“If there’s snow, it could happen,” Christensen said.

“You can get knocked down and buried by that little bit of snow that we do have,” Blanton said.

The early season snowfall, adding to the urgency behind an annual preparedness meeting featuring avalanche professionals – among them, search and rescue groups, Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, Unified Police Department Canyon Patrol, as well as partners from nine different area ski resorts.

“We plan for a busy winter season,” Christensen said.

The meeting focused on education – the group created a plan and call-out schedules to ensure there is always someone ready and able to go in the event of an avalanche.

“If someone needs our help, we are doing everything we can to be prepared and educated and ready to respond,” said Christensen. “Our mission is saving the life of an avalanche victim.”

Now, they are extending the pressure for preparedness to those who recreate in Utah’s backcountry.

“The message that we'd like to get out to everyone that's going out there today is: be searchable,” said Christensen. “Get educated, check the avalanche forecast before you go out, don't travel alone, let other people know where you're going and check in with them, always make sure you have a beacon, check your batteries at the beginning of the season, always travel with a shovel and avalanche probes.”

Above all, ‘be smart.’

“If you don't have avalanche probes, or a beacon, or cold weather gear, or the gear to stay overnight potentially, don't come up and don't go in the backcountry,” said Blanton. “Mother nature is pretty unforgiving, the weather is pretty treacherous up here right now.”

Current avalanche forecasts can be found on the Utah Avalanche Center’s website.

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