OGDEN -- The avalanche danger for the next few days is classified as "considerable" in Utah's upper elevations, and the terrain should be navigated only by expert skiers and snowboarders.
"Counterintuitively, this early season is the most dangerous," Utah Avalanche Center Director Bruce Tremper said.
"Considerable" is the third of five avalanche condition levels, and people who do not have avalanche experience are advised to stay off the slopes.
According to the Avalanche Center, when dangerous avalanche conditions exist, human-caused avalanches are likely and can be triggered from a distance.
The current conditions are caused by October's snow "rotting" on the ground, Tremper said, which left a mix of sugary snow and weak crusts.
"So when we get a storm on top, it's very dangerous," Tremper said.
A professional skier from Montana lost his life Sunday when he set off an avalanche. Matthew Jamie Pierre, 38, of Big Sky, Mont., and another man were snowboarding near Snowbird Resort.
Snowbird doesn't open for skiing until Saturday, and the resort hasn't cleared the mountain of avalanche danger. Snowbird posted signs warning against skiing, and Pierre and his snowboarding partner shouldn't have been on the slopes, Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal said.
Pierre was a professional who appeared in winter sports films and set a world record for a cliff jump in 2006 when he jumped 255 feet and landed on his head in the snow.
Sunday's avalanche carried him hundreds of feet through steep, rocky terrain and reportedly sent him over a small cliff. He was only partially buried when he came to a stop, an initial Avalanche Center report stated.
Pierre's snowboarding partner alerted both the Snowbird Ski Patrol and Wasatch Backcountry Rescue.
Pierre's fatality is a grim reminder of the avalanche danger this time of year.
As storms begin blanketing the area, winter sport enthusiasts head out to enjoy the snow.
"There is always a very high powder fever to get out this time of year," Tremper said, but it is best to go slow and re-evaluate what is going on in the snowpack.
Tremper said avalanches do not happen randomly, like lightning strikes.
"In 93 percent of avalanche accidents," Tremper said, "it was triggered by the victim or someone in the victim's party -- so the vast majority of the time, we cause the avalanche."
The snow needs time to settle and adjust to the change of load to minimize the avalanche danger.
"Snow is like people," Tremper said. "It doesn't like rapid change."
Until the snow settles, the danger in the Top of Utah is mostly in the areas above 9,500 feet facing north and east.
Alta and Snowbird are prepping the snow to prepare for opening this weekend, with efforts that include removing avalanche dangers with explosives.
For those who want to head into the backcountry, Tremper recommends taking an avalanche course.
To take a class, visit http://utahavalanchecenter.org/education.
The Associated Press contributed to this story