Utah sees an average of four avalanche deaths a year.
But this winter’s tally bucked the odds. It was the state’s first snow season in 26 years that no one died in an avalanche.
Craig Gordon, a forecaster with the Forest Service’s Utah Avalanche Center, calls the fatality-free year “an amazing accomplishment” for the center and the backcountry community.
“Particularly when you look at the numbers in terms of backcountry growth,” he says. “I mean, the backcountry’s getting loved to death.”
Gordon says technology is making a difference. It’s easier and faster than it used to be to get out the word to skiers, boarders and snowmobilers about staying safe and avoiding hazards like avalanche-prone slopes.
“Now with apps, the Internet, with Instagram and Twitter feeds, we’ve got a well-connected, dialed in backcountry community,” he says.
The Wasatch Mountains has had a big snow year. Ski Utah says all four of the Cottonwood Canyons resorts received more than their usual 500 inches this year.
Gordon says the timing of storms also helped keep the backcountry relatively snowpack stable – especially after late January. But there’s no way to know how next season will play out.
“Every winter is different,” he says, “and we may never see a deep, stable snowpack like this for another couple of decades.”
The Utah Avalanche Center ended its daily forecasts on Sunday. Its web page will now post weekly advisories, along with updates after significant storms.
And Gordon points out that backcountry users have plenty of time until next season to brush up on their avalanche-safety skills.