Winter sports are popular in Utah—after all, we do have the greatest snow on Earth (once it finally arrives). When our beautiful mountains show off their incredible blankets of white, powdery snow, it’s hard for anyone to resist going up there to explore. Whether you ski, snowboard, snowshoe, snowmobile, or ice fish, being safe in the snow is crucial. Avalanches are a real danger throughout the state, and you must be prepared. Here are four safety precautions we recommend for anyone planning to adventure the great outdoors in Utah’s incredible backcountry.
Check the Forecast
First and foremost, you want to stay on top of the weather forecast. Check snow reports and avalanche danger ratings where you are headed before you go out. And don’t let your bravery push you to do something hazardous. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a good place to check for accurate forecasts. In the winter of 2020-2021, there were 37 avalanche-related deaths in the U.S., which was the deadliest in a decade. Avalanche warning signs include evidence of previous slides, cracks forming in the snow around you, strong winds or blowing snow, heavy snowfall (or rainfall) in the last 24 hours, and rapidly increasing temperatures.
Arm Yourself with the Proper Gear
We know it’s expensive, but quality gear is the only way to go when your life is on the line. Exploring back country terrain requires a pack with a beacon, shovel, probe, avalanche airbag, first aid kit, and an emergency communication device. Prepare yourself with the right tools in case an accident does occur. The right tools truly can save your life.
For hard-core backcountry lovers, proper training is a must. You’ll need to know the technical skills required to navigate intense conditions. You’ll need to be prepared with quick decision-making skills in an emergency situation, how to administer first-aid on yourself and others, danger zones to look out for, and how to assess varying risks. Even the most confident of explorers need safety trainings and refreshers on proper response methods.
Map it Out and Communicate
Before your adventure, chart out your terrain with a GPS device or a map. A great mapping resource is CalTopo which allows you to personalize and categorize the different paths you plan to take. Tell someone where you are planning to be, or even better, give them a map with your written path to be extra safe. Plan out an estimated timeframe so they know when to watch for your arrival. This step may seem overkill, but by providing these details, search and rescue teams can be far more effective if they’re needed.
It’s fun to live life with a bit of a risk, but only if it’s not life threatening. Excitement comes in all forms, and you can still have a thrilling time while being safe. In the winter backcountry of Utah, stay out of harms way and follow the rules. On the ski slopes, stay in bounds, and remember not to put any one in danger by being careless.