Why Utah is in the Middle of one of its Most Deadly Ski Seasons
The backcountry, once considered a wild terrain suitable for only the most rugged and experienced adventurers, has gotten crowded.
It didn’t happen suddenly, though it may feel like that to those who have taken pride in “earning their turns.” Improvements in gear combined with the high cost of lift tickets has made backcountry touring the fastest-growing segment of the snow sports industry. And when COVID-19 arrived, hundreds or even thousands turned to the forests and mountains for some socially distanced recreation outside of the ski areas.
Now every weekend SUVs saddled with ski racks spill out of the parking areas along Big and Little Cottonwood canyons and Mill Creek Canyon. Ski tracks zigzag through nearly every open glade, glen and bowl. Backcountry skier Tom Diegel said he’s pulled into Alta at 6 a.m. hoping for some fresh powder only to see as many as 50 headlamps already lighting up the surrounding hills.
This year’s tricky and unpredictable snowpack, however, means these additional adventure seekers haven’t just made the backcountry more crowded. They’ve also made it more dangerous.