October 27, 2012 Early Season Avalanche Safety Information

Winter weather has arrived in western Montana with a dusting in the valleys and decent amounts at the highest elevations.

Hello!  This is Steve Karkanen with early season avalanche safety information from the West Central Montana Avalanche Center.  We will begin issuing twice weekly avalanche advisories in mid-December.   Until then, it’s time to start thinking about avalanches and preparing for another safe winter.

The southern Missions appear to have the most snow on the ground with North Fork Jocko SNOTEL reporting 16 inches as of this morning.  SNOTEL in the Rattlesnake and Bitterroot Ranges from Lookout to Lost Trail are showing 7-10 inches and it is snowing this morning.

Notice that I said decent, not ski-able.  There’s no doubt that a skier or rider will be able to find pockets of much deeper snow at the highest peaks and ridges in the Bitterroot and Missions but early season conditions can be ugly for your equipment when you hit newly hidden rocks and much worse if you take a hard fall or get caught in a small avalanche.

Hunters, climbers and sliders have all been caught, injured or have died in late October avalanches in Montana.  Cold, shaded and steep north facing terrain that may hold snow from the previous winter tend to have the most potential for early avalanche activity. New snow on these older snowfields may not have had time to bond to these surfaces.  Other areas to be aware of include leeward terrain and steep couloirs or gullies where wind slabs have formed and storm snow is deeper than on other terrain.

Hunters can be most at risk since they frequently travel solo, have no avalanche rescue gear and are more focused on stalking animals than thinking about avalanche hazard.

The best mitigation for early season snow hazards is preparation if you plan to play on it, avoidance if you are unsure about it.  Make sure all your (and your partner’s) gear is working before you go then be sure you have it with you when you go.

Upcoming Education Events

Several avalanche education classes are now posted on our Education and Events page.  Please note that some of these classes require pre-registration to attend.  The Level 1 Avalanche classes are very popular and space is limited so please register soon.  We are also offering a Level 2 Avalanche class again this year with the American Avalanche Institute. We had many last-minute registrations and a long waiting list for this class last year so please register early at http://www.americanavalancheinstitute.com/aai2/level-2.php

Thank You!

Our friends group, West Central Montana Avalanche Foundation, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit, again organized this years Pray for Snow Party held at Caras Park.  Turnout was excellent!  Many people came down to eat good food, drink a little good beer, listen to the excellent local musicians and have a chance to send Snowbowl owner Ronnie Morris, local skiers Matt Dillon and Jim Sylvester as well as Avalanche Center forecaster Dudley Improta into the very cold dunk tank.  It was a very successful event with all proceeds going directly into providing avalanche advisories and local education efforts.

Many thanks to all of you who attended and a special thanks to the vendors.  Our Board of Directors are very committed to avalanche safety education and have poured their free time into organizing this and other fund raising events in Missoula.  They make these advisories and classes possible.