NORTH OGDEN — Driving along the North Ogden Divide on Wednesday, Erica Kennebeck momentarily took pause.
“It’s definitely a little nerve-wracking,” she said.
The North Ogden woman made it, though, and will probably travel the narrow, mountainous roadway linking North Ogden and the Upper Ogden Valley again. Still, after her near-miss Sunday — the avalanche that day that temporarily closed the roadway trapped her car, the only vehicle so impacted — it makes her consider the uncomfortable possibilities.
“What more could it take to happen again?” she wonders.
Sunday’s avalanche led to the temporary closure of the roadway, reopened Tuesday afternoon after Weber County road crews finished clearing it. Joe Hadley, the Weber County roads director, gives it the all clear. “We got it opened up and it looks really good,” he said.
Still, even Hadley offered cautionary words about traveling this time of year on the roadway, which has been periodically impacted by avalanches over the years. “I would consider it safe until we get another big storm. Then I would for sure use caution,” he said.
And he reiterated the advisory posted on signs along the roadway — that winter motorists use it only if they have snow tires or chains. He even suggested that motorists who use it pack a kit with food and other emergency supplies, just in case.
“Just use common sense,” he said.
Conditions of last weekend’s snowfall, which was wet and heavy, seemed to factor in the avalanche. “Intense precipitation this morning and through today with substantial water ... plus a little wind was all it needed,” said an entry from last Sunday on the Utah Avalanche Center website. An avalanche in early 2017 also closed the North Ogden Divide.
Kennebeck was traveling the roadway on Sunday with husband David Kennebeck, who was driving, when conditions suddenly turned white. They were headed from North Ogden to the Upper Ogden Valley to do some cross-country skiing.
“At first I thought it was just snow blowing in the wind. It was just white,” she said. Then she noticed the snow falling down the steep mountainside and her husband brought the vehicle to a stop.
The avalanche impacted a half-mile section of the roadway on the eastern-facing side of the range separating North Ogden and the Liberty area, past the sharp southward bend west of the preliminary rise from the valley floor. The snow measured 10-feet deep in the most heavily impacted avalanche sections, according to Hadley, but it only measured about two-feet deep where the Kennebecks were trapped, judging by a photo Weber County officials took of their vehicle.
“It was scary at first,” said Erica Kennebeck, who associates the dangers of avalanches more with skiers and skiing. “It’s not something I ever thought of traveling that road.”
The Kennebecks’ first instinct was to try to dig their car out. “But then we looked in front of us and behind us and there were bigger (snow piles),” she said. Ultimately, they left their car, clambered out over the fallen snow, and a motorist traveling behind them, who had stopped in front of the avalanche zone, drove them back to North Ogden.
Weber County road crews dug out the car and the Kennebecks were able to retrieve it later Sunday. But roads officials didn’t start the task of clearing the avalanche zone until Tuesday morning, heeding avalanche experts’ advice to leave the area alone for 24-48 hours to let the snow stabilize.
County roads officials used two front-end loaders, a road grader and a giant-size snow blower they typically use around the Powder Mountain ski resort to clear the road. They dumped the excess snow over the edge of the roadway, down the mountain.
Meanwhile, the snow, of all things, inspired Kennebeck to brave the North Ogden Divide on Wednesday. She went skiing at the Nordic Valley resort.