Well, I hate to say “I told you so” but…….. “I told you so!!!!” The end of January decided to leave us with some good pow skiing. From Jan 23rd-Feb 4th areas have received plus or minus 42.5’’ of snow @ 3.2’’ SWE and the mountains came alive again not just with powder-starved, resort and backcountry riders but also with many avalanches!!
These storms finally tipped the thresholds and awakened our sleeping giant that we have been harping about since early December. If you happened to be in the mountains from Jan 27th-Feb 4th boy did you receive a show!! Widespread natural, skier, remote, and explosive triggered avalanches were breaking back to the ground and were being played at a theater near you. Reports from Logan, Ogden, SLC, and Provo were flooding in. With that, the unfortunate accident and fatality on Square Top Peak off the Park City Ridge Line occurring on Jan 30th.
Now is the time we need to take a serious look at ourselves and be critical about our decision-making processes. When dealing with a deep persistent problem, there is little to no room for error, surviving this kind of avalanche is nearly impossible. Don’t be fooled because you haven’t seen any activity for a couple days or that this layer has gone away or healed itself, it is sure to come alive again with our next loads on track to affect the area today. A persistent weak layer can cycle through periods of sensitivity from reactive to nonreactive due to changes in weather conditions such as new precipitation, wind loading, strong solar radiation, and/or rapid changes in air temperature. Persistent avalanches can be triggered by light loads and weeks after the last storm. They are commonly triggered remotely and they often propagate larger than a storm or wind slab would, also they often propagate in surprising and unpredictable ways. The best way to manage the risk from a persistent avalanche problem is to make conservative terrain choices.
You might be thinking “great, things have slid and my favorite line will be back to normal after a few storms.” This is wrong!!! We are starting over in these zones that have released, we are back to a cold shallow snow pack which is how this whole persistent problem got started. Many of these slides are now set up to become repeaters, it’s the unfortunate doom and gloom truth when these layers are created in early season.
So, as the mountains are filled with riders again for a weekend full of powder turns, try to learn from others mistakes and heed warnings from professionals. Make good travel choices, stay off of and out from under steep slopes, respect all resort boundary closures at your local ski resorts, and remember, when riding above highways, there are people below you that didn’t buy a ticket to the show. Stay safe out their folks, hope you all find some pow turns.
Listed below is a good observation from Bill Brant and the final report on the Square Top Fatality.