Backcountry 101 skiers

Skiers attend a “Backcountry 101” course in the La Sal Mountains. The Manti-La Sal National Forest – Utah Avalanche Center will offer a free "Know Before You Go" avalanche awareness presentation at the Grand County Public Library on Thursday, Dec. 14, at 6:30 p.m. The Forest Service encourages all winter backcountry users, from snowmobilers to skiers and snowshoers, to attend. [Photo courtesy USFS Utah Avalanche Center]

The Manti-La Sal National Forest’s Moab/Monticello Ranger District office of the Utah Avalanche Center will give a free “Know Before You Go” avalanche awareness presentation on Thursday, Dec. 14, at 6:30 p.m. at the Grand County Public Library, 257 E. Center St.

Geared toward winter backcountry users, including skiers, snowmobilers and snowshoers, the one-hour presentation features an exciting short film entitled “Know Before You Go.” The film was an official selection at the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Following the film, avalanche forecaster Eric Trenbeath will give a Powerpoint presentation and answer questions.

“We want people to be aware of the dangers of avalanches so they can play safe in the backcountry,” Trenbeath said.

Trenbeath said the presentation will teach people how to recognize avalanche terrain, and signs of instability within the snowpack. They will also learn how mountain weather affects avalanche conditions, and be introduced to avalanche rescue gear such as shovels, probes and locator beacons.

“This course is designed to introduce people to the basics of avalanche safety,” Trenbeath said.

Trenbeath said that avalanche education should be ongoing, however, and that the avalanche center will be offering a Backcountry 101 course in the La Sal Mountains on Feb. 2-3, 2018.

“This is a really great next-level course where people get out into the snow and apply some of the skills they have learned,” Trenbeath said.

Trenbeath said there is also a wealth of the information on the Internet, and that the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center provides daily updated mountain weather and avalanche information at www.utahavalanchecenter.org.

An average of 30 people die in avalanches in the U.S. each year, with hundreds more being caught or buried that survive. Five people have died from avalanches in the La Sal Mountains.

Trenbeath said that the La Sal Mountains are extremely avalanche prone due to a combination of steep terrain, and a typically shallow and weak snowpack.

“It’s counterintuitive, but the less snow a region gets, the more dangerous and weak the snowpack can be,” Trenbeath said.

Trenbeath said this is due to the presence of weak layers that form during long periods of high pressure when nights are cold and clear.

“Then when the snow does come, it’s like dropping a frying pan on a house of cards,” Trenbeath said. “Being a desert town, a lot of people aren’t really aware of it, but it’s the real deal up there.”