Week set apart for avalanche awareness

In the aftermath of last January’s tragic avalanche fatality in the La Sal Mountains near Moab, the State of Utah declared the first week of each December as Avalanche Awareness Week.

Utah state Congressman Phil Lyman (R, San Juan County) and state senator Kirk Cullimore (R, Salt Lake County, District 9) submitted HB 380 to Governor Gary Herbert which he promptly signed into law.

The bill designates the first week of each December as statewide Avalanche Awareness Week as a way to support avalanche awareness and education throughout the state.

The bill was enthusiastically supported by the Utah Avalanche Center, the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation, the USDA Forest Service, Utah Department of Transportation, Utah State Parks, local search and rescue groups and avalanche safety gear manufacturers.

The avalanche victim in the La Sals was Utah’s 118th avalanche fatality in the modern era, and before the winter was over, the state suffered two more fatalities.

That added up to four tragic fatalities for the season, with another Utahn killed while snowmobiling in Idaho.

A recent study looking at recreational avalanche fatalities in Utah in the modern era found that avalanches have claimed the lives of 120 people since 1940.

The “modern era” refers to the post-mining decades (beyond the late 1800s and early 1900s) and, for this study, begins with an avalanche fatality near Alta, UT on January 1, 1940.

Avalanches are equal opportunity killers, that is, they do not discriminate in regards to age, gender, experience level, nor by how one chooses to recreate in the backcountry. 

Victims include men, women, children (even multiple children in one case), skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, snowmobilers, climbers, beginners, and the very experienced.

As the late Swiss avalanche researcher André Roch reminds us, “the avalanche does not know that you are the expert.”

Each winter, men and women of the ski patrols and avalanche technicians with the Utah Department of Transportation and the U.S. Forest Service go to great lengths to provide public safety across the state.

Still, avalanches are by far the number one natural hazard, with lightning a distant second. 

The mission of the Utah Avalanche Center (UAC) is to keep people on top of the Greatest Snow on Earth rather than buried beneath it.

The UAC is a partnership between the USDA Forest Service and a non-profit 501(c)(3), and issues daily avalanche forecasts for eight regions across the state while providing education and outreach to thousands of Utahns each winter.

Now, with the support of Governor Herbert and the Utah State Legislature, the UAC and its partners will host an annual Avalanche Awareness Week the first week of December with the goal of increasing the awareness of the danger of avalanches to the residents of Utah.

During Avalanche Awareness Week, the  UAC and its partners will host events, classes, and other activities to promote avalanche awareness, education, and safety.

This week will help Utahns learn to both avoid avalanches while enjoying the Greatest Snow on Earth and come home safely each day to their friends and family. 

To find out more information or to get involved, visit https://utahavalanchecenter.org/blog/47768.

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