Powder is falling from the sky and the mountains are turning white, which means skiing season is almost here — and with it comes avalanche season.
The Utah Avalanche Center is warning of dangerous avalanche conditions in the backcountry for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Starting Wednesday morning, a winter storm warning for the Wasatch Mountains will be in effect until 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 30. Between 1-3 feet of snow in the mountains is possible, as well as wind gusts of up to 40 mph, according to the National Weather Service of Salt Lake City.
In the lower Weber and Davis County valleys, total snow accumulations are expected to be between 5 to 10 inches and 8 to 18 inches on the benches.
Avalanche conditions will develop as new, dense snow is expected to land on top of bare slopes or weakened layers of snow from October storms, the center said. This includes the backcountry as well as out-of-bounds terrain at the ski areas.
“Most sunny slopes are bare and many others patchy or crusty after the prolonged November dry spell. But on shady slopes facing the north half of the compass, the old October snow has grown sugary and very weak. The very same slopes that will tempt us to play on them, are the exact slopes that are the most dangerous and need to be avoided as the storm materializes,” the center said in a press release.
In addition to new snow overloading weak preexisting snow, the storm will bring intensifying and sustained south winds that will drift the powder snow, depositing it directly onto suspect upper elevation slopes, the center said. Drifting at upper elevations will be substantial and extreme.
“Early season avalanches failing on a sugary persistent weak layer are commonly triggered remotely, from a distance, or below,” the center said. “Shallow, early season conditions cause even small avalanches to be very dangerous, because you could easily be dragged into rocks or stumps/logs.”
Those planning on heading into the backcountry should be prepared with rescue gear and a partner. The Utah Avalanche Center recommends:
Avoiding steep, wind drifted slopes.
Checking your local avalanche forecast before you go. Visit utahavalanchecenter.org
Making sure everyone in your party has avalanche rescue gear; transceiver, probe, and shovel.
Crossing steep slopes one person at a time, while the rest of your party watches from a safe place.