Avalanche Safety and Snow Update

Contact(s): Leona Rodreick, Alex Dunn

Many backcountry enthusiasts seek out deep snow in mountain terrain on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Whether on snowmobile, skis, snowboard, or other devices, unstable snow in steep avalanche-prone terrain can be dangerous and even deadly. 

     Although snow depth and structure around the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest varies significantly, the majority of the Forest has a shallow and weak snowpack. The forecast is calling for snow throughout the holiday week which will add stress to this weak snowpack and may increase the likelihood of avalanches. 

     If you are planning on enjoying the new snow over the holidays, please be very cautious and heed the following advice:

  • GET THE GEAR: Ensure everyone has an avalanche transceiver, shovel, and probe on their person and knows how to use them.

  • GET THE TRAINING: Take an avalanche course.

  • GET THE FORECAST: Make a riding plan based on the current avalanche and weather forecast.

  • GET THE PICTURE: If you see recent avalanche activity, cracks in the snow surface, or collapsing of the snowpack, this means unstable snow exists and riding on or below steep slopes is dangerous.

  • GET OUT OF HARM'S WAY: Limit your exposure to dangerous terrain.Travel one at a time on risky slopes. Don’t group up in avalanche runout zones. Don't help your friend find a lost ski or get unstuck in hazardous terrain; keep your distance so one of you can rescue the other in the event of an avalanche.

     Forest Service avalanche specialists advise avoiding avalanche terrain, between 30 and 45 degrees steepness, as the most effective way to safely recreate when snow stability is poor.       Signs of recent avalanches, cracking, and/or collapsing of the snow, otherwise known as “wumphing”, are what avalanche specialists call “bullseye data” – clear warning signs that the snow is unstable.  Trails and low-angle meadows, without steep slopes above, are safer terrain choices at times of poor snow stability, as is avoidance of avalanche runout zones below steep slopes. 

     For more information on snow conditions in your area contact your local Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest office.  More information is also available through the following links:  www.avalanche.org, www.mtavalanche.com/education, and www.missoulaavalanche.org/education-events