Oct 23, 2020 @ 2:30 pm

This is Travis Craft with an early season snowpack update on Friday, October 23, 2020.

Winter is claiming the high country and creeping to the valley floor. The weather predicted for this weekend should put avalanche safety at the front of plans for recreating outside in the mountains. Strong winds and significant snow accumulations will increase the avalanche danger.

In the past, there have been several early season close calls and fatalities in Montana involving hunters, climbers, and skiers. Hunters and Climbers: Please keep avalanche safety on your mind as you travel across steep, open terrain. Consider traveling with a partner and carrying rescue equipment. Skiers and Riders: If there is enough snow to ride, there is enough snow to slide!

Avalanche preparedness starts now, and even though it is early in the season, you need to stay aware of the potential for avalanches. Early season snowfall creates hazards on avalanche terrain at upper elevations. This tends to be concentrated on wind loaded terrain where more snow will be found. Keep in mind that there are increased consequences this time of year due to exposed rocks, cliffs, and stumps that raise trauma potential. Keep an eye on the weather as early season snowfall may lead to avalanche problems that persist for the entire season. Now is the time to start watching the weather and observing how the terrain begins to fill in.

If you see any of these clues signaling dangerous snow conditions, avoid being on or under open slopes steeper than 30 degrees:

    • Recent avalanche activity
    • Cracking or collapsing snowpack
    • Heavy snowfall
    • High winds
    • Rapid increase in temperature

Please remember to check the NOAA Backcountry Forecast and share your observations on our public observation page if you head into the backcountry.

If you spend time in the mountains during the winter, chances are you will encounter avalanche terrain. Understanding terrain, weather, and snowpack will help you make good decisions and return home safely. To assist you, we offer a wide range of educational opportunities for all backcountry user groups. To view upcoming events and register for winter course offerings, please visit the education page.

The West Central Montana Avalanche Center (WCMAC) will update the advisory as the weather dictates and plans to begin issuing regular avalanche advisories with a danger rating in December.

Ski and ride safe.


Problem 1 - New Snow

  • TYPE


    Storm Slabs

    Release of a soft cohesive layer (a slab) of new snow which breaks within the storm snow or on the old snow surface. Storm-slab problems typically last between a few hours and few days. Storm-slabs that form over a persistent weak layer (surface hoar, depth hoar, or near-surface facets) may be termed Persistent Slabs or may develop into Persistent Slabs.

  • SIZE


    1-2 (Small-Large)

    The potential size of avalanche resulting from this problem.




    The likelihood of an avalanche resulting from this problem.

Wind loaded slopes will have the greatest potential for avalanches. New and blowing snow will create the potential for small avalanches primarily at upper elevations.


Here is a link to the forecast.

This information is the sole responsibility of the Forest Service and does not apply to operating ski areas. The avalanche danger rating expires at midnight tonight but the information can help you make a more informed decision regarding travel in avalanche terrain for the next few days.

Our advisory area includes National Forest System lands in the Bitterroot Mountains from Lost Trail Pass north to Granite Pass, the Rattlesnake Mountains north of Missoula and the Southern Swan and Mission Mountains near Seeley Lake, MT. Avalanche information for the Lookout Pass/St. Regis Basin area is available from the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center.