Record-breaking snowpack affects spring recreation

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The view from the top of Mt. Baldy in Little Cottonwood Canyon looks toward the backside of Mount Timpanogos. A snow field on the back of the mountain usually has snow year round. (Photo courtesy of Colin Peacock)

The high snowpack this winter has caused avalanches, flooding and trail closures, forcing some people to adjust their spring and summer plans.

Winter brought record-breaking levels of snowpack to the state, hitting 201% above normal in April, according to data from the Utah Department of Natural Resources. The snowpack has been beneficial for winter recreation, with ski resorts like Snowbird being open as late as June.

However, because the snow melt has caused flooding, wet trails and abnormally high water levels, outdoor enthusiasts say this season could be different from previous years for summer activities like hiking, mountain biking and river sports.

Colin Peacock, a BYU student and mountain-lover said he and his friends have a goal to ski or backcountry ski every month of the year. Peacock said this will be possible because there is a permanent snow field on the backside of Mount Timpanogos, accessible by hiking, where the snow has only ever melted a couple of times in recorded history, according to Peacock.

BYU graduate Ian Wells is experienced in mountaineering and visits Mount Timpanogos year-round. He said chances of an avalanche happening are higher during spring than any other season due to the snow starting to warm up and melt, especially late in the day after the sun has been out. 

Peacock and a friend witnessed two avalanches while backcountry skiing on the backside of Timpanogos, an area called Primrose Cirque. 

“We saw some snow slough off and make this snow waterfall up above us … so that’s kind of scary. There was another avalanche that we saw, just a little one going down our existing avalanche path,” Peacock said.

He said they could have been in danger, as the first one was directly above them. 

According to Peacock and other experienced hikers, visiting high parts of the mountains this spring will require more preparation and gear than in prior years due to trail conditions and the possibility of experiencing an avalanche. He strongly recommended that those hoping to hike Mount Timpanogos early in the summer do their research and know the potential dangers they could encounter.

Peacock explained that even experienced hikers will need the right gear such as crampons, hiking poles, ice axes, proper footwear and an avalanche kit. He said the extra work and preparation is well worth it. 

“I 100% think that people should be getting up in the mountains in all the different seasons … there’s just different things to enjoy about them,” said Peacock. 

A group of BYU Outdoors Unlimited employees get ready to paddle board part of the Provo River. The snow melt has made this year’s water levels high, making it a good year for river activities with the proper safety measures in place. (Photo courtesy of Colin Peacock)

Alyson O’Gwin, an experience design and management major at BYU, said this year’s snow might affect her summer plans. O’Gwin loves hiking, specifically a kind of hiking called “peak-bagging,” where the main goal of the hiker is to reach a mountain summit or set of summits.

“The snow will affect that a lot this year, which is unfortunate,” she said.

She added that some peaks and trails may not be as accessible and will open later in the season than in previous years. 

O’Gwin and her friend took a mountaineering trip up Timp in March using ice axes, crampons and other proper equipment. She said people may need to use such gear well into June because of the snowpack.

“It will be good, it’ll just be a different kind of hiking … a little bit more technical, and not for people who are inexperienced,” she said.

O’Gwin said the bright side is that she will be able to snowboard and ski for longer this season. 

Skiing is not the only sport benefitting from this year’s record snowpack, according to Wells. He said this year is a good year for river activities — as long as people take proper precautions.

“If you really know what you’re doing and you’re dedicated to being safe, you can go and have a lot of fun on rivers right now,” he said.

Wells mentioned, however, that there can be more debris in the water due to flooding and some areas may be harder to navigate than they were in the past. 

Wells said gear and preparation will be key for mountain recreation this year. He said people can rent gear from BYU Outdoors Unlimited, UVU Outdoor Adventure or buy it from consignment gear shops like Pando Refitters in Provo. He also recommends checking websites like AllTrails.com for trail conditions. 

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