Melting Snow Triggered a Massive Avalanche in a Popular Utah Hiking Area

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An avalanche came down in a popular hiking area. Credit: Mark Wetzel, KSL TV

As temperatures start to rise, the increased warmth is starting to melt the snow in Utah’s mountains resulting in an avalanche in a popular hiking area last week.

Sometime in the last week, a huge, wet avalanche barreled down a narrow channel below the Mount Olympus face about a mile from the Neff’s Canyon trailhead. It appears, a large piece of rock and a large volume of snow broke away and ran down the channel, sweeping up everything in its path, writes KSL. It’s likely the slide came down after the big rainstorm.

“Wet avalanches are amazing the way they can come down,” said Mark Staples, director of the U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center. “It’s like the chute on the back of a concrete mixer, funneling it down into the forest.”

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Mount Olympus, UT

The avalanche snapped trees and moved large boulders and appears to have run at least 1,000 vertical feet, leaving a debris field a couple of hundred yards long.

“Because the snow is so wet and dense, it’s more like concrete. It can knock over trees and shape the landscape a little bit with more destructive power.”

In the winter, Staples said, the snow typically slides when extra weight is added on the snowpack until it breaks. In the spring, with wet avalanches, the sun and rain weaken the snowpack.

If you are in the backcountry and you’re still up in the snow zones, be especially cautious in the next few weeks for any snow sloughing off the mountains.

“These are the mountains,” he said. “This is Utah, the weather can be crazy. So the main thing is to use common sense and look out for big dramatic changes in the weather.”

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Neff’s trailhead

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