Avalanche! Ignorance is not Bliss

Here are a couple of my favorite “hiking” photos I’ve taken, complete with cautionary tales just in time for winter recreation!

1xNYav1_19This shot of a fellow Search and Rescue member was taken one May in the Hidden Lakes area of the Primrose Cirque (Aspen Grove Trail up Timpanogos).

The Department of Public Safety (DPS, Highway Patrol) helicopter dropped us off to begin a search for a snowshoer buried by a New Year’s Eve avalanche. Wasatch Powder Guides had flown the area soon afterward and counted 300+ potential avalanche starting zones over the search area (far too many to bomb and ensure our safety), so we had to wait for the snow to stabilize before we could begin our search. We finally spotted him from the air exactly six months later as his coat sleeve began to show through the retreating snow.

The cautionary tale here is to “Know Before You Go,” as the Utah Avalanche Center says (watch the BREATHTAKING video here).  Read their daily avalanche report before entering avalanche terrain (which includes most of Utah’s mountains), both for current conditions and to understand better the fuzzy science of avalanche forecasting. Better yet, sign up to get it delivered to your email daily.

For example, when it’s snowing 2″ or 3″ per hour, the snow will be absolutely inherently unstable for a while – stay home, or stay on flat areas without steep run-out zones above you.

Read this full story in 75 Search and Rescue Stories, and parts of it in The Joy of Misery.

1sudotski_073 This is climbing above Sundance for some backcountry skiing with UDOT avy forecasters and SAR members (NOTE: you’re not allowed to do this on your own 🙂 ).

On the way down, we skipped the best chute because we couldn’t get a cornice to slide to test the slope below, so it wasn’t worth the risk. Sure enough, we broke loose a slab avalanche while doing a ski cut on a benign-looking slope.

Play it safe out there, and learn what you’re doing, because when it comes to avalanches, ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is deadly.


Shaun Roundy

Shaun Roundy built HikeTheWasatch.com to consolidate useful articles from facebook.com/groups/HikeTheWasatch. He is an avid outdoorsman, hiker, climber, mountaineer, sailor, biker, Search and Rescue team member, author, intuitive healer, traveler, teacher, and more.

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