“Spring Avalanche Conditions in Utah”
April 17, 2018
By Utah Avalanche Center
“Learn what to watch for during spring avalanche conditions when the snow becomes wet.”
Learn what to watch for during spring avalanche conditions when the snow becomes wet.
Edited by Trent Meisenheimer and Arrius Sorbonne
Color: Arrius Sorbonne
Video Footage: Sherpa Cinema
About the Author:
The Utah Avalanche Center (UAC) exists to keep people on top of The Greatest Snow On Earth® by providing avalanche forecasting, education, and awareness throughout the state of Utah.
The UAC was officially established in 1980 in collaboration with the US Forest Service (USFS). The nonprofit Friends of the Utah Avalanche Center was formed in 1990 to help bridge the gap between the available funding and actual expenses of operating an avalanche center alongside growing user demand and increasing need for education and awareness. This development protected the UAC from year-to-year fluctuations in USFS funding. Today, the nonprofit UAC is responsible for the majority of avalanche awareness and education in Utah, as well as funding and strategic management of the partnership with the USFS. Over three-fourths of the total program funding is raised through the nonprofit, with the remainder coming from federal, state, and county sources.
The UAC has offices in Moab, Logan, Salt Lake City, and Spring City, working primarily in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache and Manti-La Sal National Forests. We have 18 employees with over 300 years of combined experience who are committed to saving lives through avalanche forecasting, education, and awareness. The UAC’s expert staff have become well-respected leaders in this field working alongside avalanche experts from around the U.S. and and the world to develop the most effective approaches to saving lives through making avalanche forecasting, education, and awareness readily available to backcountry travelers throughout the State of Utah.
The UAC provides avalanche forecasting across Utah covering eight geographic areas: Logan (includes southeastern Idaho), Ogden, Salt Lake, the Uintas (includes southwestern Wyoming), Provo, Skyline, Moab, and the Abajos. We have eight full-time and two part-time avalanche forecasters. Avalanche forecasts are published daily and contain life-saving information about current avalanche and mountain weather conditions. Regional forecasters create avalanche forecasts by gathering data from a multitude of sources – fieldwork, public observations, professional observations, the weather forecast, recent avalanche activity, and snowpack information. The UAC benefits from a longstanding relationship with the National Weather Service based in Salt Lake City by gaining insight from NWS meteorologists about the intricacies of winter storms and how they will affect the stability of the snowpack. The forecasts provide specific information about individual avalanche problems, recent avalanches, travel advice, danger ratings, and mountain weather and are available to the public for free on our website, mobile application, and by phone.
The Utah Avalanche Center provides avalanche education classes to both non-motorized and motorized backcountry travelers, throughout the State of Utah. Course offerings include youth, women’s specific, splitboard, snowmobile, timbersled and private classes. Through on-snow education programs students learn how to recognize avalanche terrain, travel in the backcountry based on current conditions, and rescue a buried partner. Classes range from a few hours to multiple days and provide students with the confidence and skills to travel safely in the backcountry. The Utah Avalanche Center Education programs aim to arm students with the basic skills and knowledge needed to travel safely in the backcountry and better prepare them for higher level avalanche instruction. Our on-snow courses are designed to better prepare participants as they begin their journey through avalanche education. We offer on average 50 courses through the season serving over 1,000 students throughout the state of Utah. The overall goal of the Utah Avalanche Center Education Program is to keep people on top of the greatest snow on earth through educating the community on the dangers of the backcountry, how to interpret the forecast, and how to reduce risk in the backcountry in the winter time.
The UAC provides a wide range of avalanche awareness classes, talks, and events. The purpose of these is to introduce people to the Utah Avalanche Center, our products and services, and avalanche safety in general. Current programs include Know Before You Go (KBYG), the premiere avalanche awareness course in the nation. KBYG was launched by the UAC in 2005 to teach school-age children in Utah about the dangers of avalanches. The program has reached over 200,000 Utahns since that time. Currently KBYG reaches over 8,000 Utah school kids and adults each year. The current KBYG video and materials have been viewed over 2 million times since 2015. Other awareness talks include Get the Gear, The Science of Avalanches, Terrain Management, and Human Factors.
Other awareness programs include the Trailhead Avalanche Awareness Program; we meet users right at points of departure with current avalanche conditions and pertinent avalanche safety information, UAC in the Park; we set up avalanche transceiver practice close to where people live to make it easy and convenient, and a multitude of other outreach events including ski swaps, retail shop partnerships, conferences, and snow industry gatherings.
Partnerships and Professional Development
The UAC hosts one of the largest snow and avalanche workshops for avalanche professionals and the general public each fall. The Utah Snow and Avalanche Workshop provides continuing education for avalanche professionals and backcountry recreationists across the country by sharing case studies and stories from avalanche experts ranging from avalanche forecasters to ski patrollers. The general workshop also offers recreationists a cost-effective way to build and refresh advanced avalanche skills and knowledge.
The UAC works closely with multiple agencies and organizations including Utah Department of Transportation, Utah Department of Public Safety, Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, ski resorts, guide operators, and local search and rescue teams, to share up-to-date information and training. We partner with local and national outdoor recreation dealers and manufacturers that serve both motorized and non-motorized users. The UAC is an example of a successful non-profit/federal agency partnership focused on public safety. The UAC has bi-partisan support at the state legislative level and our efforts are recognized as key to Utah’s economy by keeping winter recreation and those who live and visit Utah for access to that recreation safe. In 2019 the UAC worked with the Utah Legislature, Utah State Parks, Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, and the Utah Department of Transportation to pass House Bill 380 to officially recognize the first week of December as Avalanche Awareness Week bringing attention to the public safety risks presented by avalanches.
The UAC operates and relies on funding from grants, private donations, businesses, and events.