Thinking About Heading to the Snow? Officials Urge Caution

TRUCKEE -- With 6 feet of fresh snow on many Sierra slopes, first responders in the mountains were warning people about potential hazards Tuesday.

Avalanche danger in the area was considerable, according to the Sierra Avalanche Center. Skiers and snowboarders were urged to stay on groomed slopes and go with a buddy. Those who fall alone in deep powder may have a hard time getting themselves out.

In a Tuesday evening conversation with FOX40, Sgt. David Hunt of the Placer County Sheriff's Office described the danger posed by trees where new snow is deep. The powder around the trees is less dense than the surrounding snow, creating a well that can trap a person.

"If you were to come in here head-first there's no way of getting out," said Sgt. Hunt at the base of a tree. "You can't. Your arms are going to be tight because as soon as you go into the snow head-first, all that snow is going to pack around you and you'll end up suffocating."

Hunt also explained how chunks of snow that collect on branches can harden and become dangerous.

"They fall off the trees and they're just like a baseball hitting you," he cautioned. "So if you're under a large tree and it just dumps, it could knock you completely out into the snow and even bury you before anybody could be able to find you."

Something similar can be said about every thick slab of snow clinging to a sloped rooftop.

"It'll slide right off the top of the roof," Sgt. Hunt explained. "And if you're underneath that eve that's thousands of pounds of snow that just falls right on top of you."

None of this is meant to discourage anyone from enjoying the Sierra snow. It's just about knowing what you are getting into.

The North Tahoe and Meeks Bay Fire Protection District issued a news release Tuesday, further emphasizing the dangers of ungroomed terrain.

"Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making are essential," the fire district said.

For the well-equipped experts who do venture into the back-country, Sgt. Hunt advises going in groups and carrying avalanche beacons and charged cell phones. If you become lost, stay put.

"It's easier to find a fixed target than it is a moving person," Sgt. Hunt said.

Everyone traveling to the mountains is advised to be prepared for delays on the roads by having a full tank of gas, plenty of food, water and very warm clothing. Be sure to drive slowly, keeping in mind that roads can be extremely slippery, even when the weather is calm.

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