If all goes well, Utah will soon complete its second death-free avalanche season, and officials are crediting common sense more than snow conditions.
The snow is not more stable this winter over previous years, and snow depths are comparable, said Bruce Tremper, director of the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center. But no deaths were reported in the 1987-88 season and none this year."It's phenomenal. It's something that hasn't happened in a long time," Tremper said Monday. "There's been a lot of near misses this year. But this year it's a combination of luck and people paying attention."
He said 95 percent of the avalanches that injure people are triggered by the victims. Utah averages 2.5 deaths each year from snowslides. "People have been listening real closely."
Avalanches are produced when a lower snow level becomes weakened and then strained. When stresses on the snow exceed its strength, slabs of snow are displaced and come tumbling down.
Roads to Utah ski resorts were closed periodically this year as crews cleared the highways and blasted aval-anches before they came down. But people apparently are listening to the warnings from the forecast center.
The Utah Avalanche Forecast Center "is by far the most heavily used forecast center in North America," Tremper said. Its recorded message is heard by twice as many people as other centers.
The center, which is operated by the National Weather Service and U.S. Forest Service, is heavily used but underfunded for demand, he said. And the center is seeking corporate and public sponsorship to maintain services.