Getting caught in an avalanche ‘It equates to being in a car accident’

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The recent snowfall across the Wasatch Front and Western Uinta mountains is raising avalanche concerns.

The Utah Avalanche Center recommends now is the time skiers, snowboarders and sled riders should start preparing.

“The snow we’re getting right now is going to set the stage for the entire winter,” said Mark Staples, Director of the Utah Avalanche Center. “This snow is going to be the foundation for our snowpack.”

Anywhere from 12-18 inches of snow fell over the weekend in parts of our state.

Earlier this year, four* people from Utah died after getting caught in an avalanche.

“It equates to being in a car accident,” said Staples. “You’re going 80 miles per hour. Once bad things start happening, you’re really out of control. That’s exactly what happens in an avalanche. You can try to swim out of it, but you’re really at the mercy of that avalanche.”

A slope that is 30 degrees or steeper setup prime conditions for one.

Experts say it’s like a black diamond ski run, and what makes it potentially more dangerous right now is that most ski slopes this time of year are backcountry.

So, if you get caught in an avalanche there may not be anyone to help you.

“I always go up with a buddy,” said David O’Connor, a snowboarder. “That’s just the basic rule for anything outdoors.”

ABC4 caught up with O’Connor and his friends while they were enjoying Sunday afternoon in the snow at Little Cottonwood Canyon.

He dug a snowpit to demonstrate a key precaution when hitting the slopes.

“You sort of dig a hole, and check the snow layers,” said O’Connor. “What causes an avalanche is when there’s a layer of snow, it freezes, and there’s a layer of powder on top of it. Once there are more layers of snow, you’ll be able to distinctly see layers.”

In addition to digging a snowpit, experts recommend you always have a partner, and check the avalanche forecast as well as undergo the proper training.

“I did the avalanche safety school,” said Dani Jones, a skier. “Last year, we had the same conditions where we got a lot of snowfall at first. So, avalanches were very high throughout the year.”

Experts stress to always carry your rescue gear, an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel.

*According to information on the Utah Avalanche Center’s Fatalities report. An earlier report said 2, but that information has since been corrected.

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