Apr 10, 2009 @ 12:00 am

General Spring Advisory

Friday April 10 – 12noon
Good afternoon, this is Dudley Improta with the West Central Montana Avalanche Center. Spring has reluctantly sprung in West Central Montana. I trust you are thinking about river running, fly-fishing, spring ski touring, rock climbing, possibly golf.

The snow generally starts to settle and strengthen at this time of the year, although this week we are hearing about snowmobile triggered avalanches in the Belt Mountains near Helena. During spring and summer timing is the key to avoiding avalanche hazard. Barring a storm laying down fresh powder (which happens) the snow is most likely to be unstable during the heat of the day. Large wet sluffs can be big enough to cause trouble. If it rains you do not want to be on a steep snow slope. So, for spring and early summer backcountry skiing and riding avoid steep open slopes during the heat of the afternoon and don’t expose yourself to steep open slopes during or immediately after a rainstorm.

Over the course of the winter Steve and I observed and discussed some questionable backcountry practices. Generally these were poor route finding (in that folks were setting skin tracks across starting zones) and more than one person skiing or riding at a time on the same steep slope. While there are times when starting zones are stable and crossing them is no problem, it sets a poor example for folks who are new to backcountry skiing. Many people may not grasp the subtleties of timing and a calculated risk. Also in areas that are popular people tend to follow the track that is broken. Good route finding is a learned skill and people learn from example. As far as more than one person riding and skiing at a time; it is just a terrible habit to get into. You should never do that. It is estimated there would be 50% fewer avalanche fatalities in Montana if people had followed this one guideline.

I have put some additions on the links page of the website showing beacon and shovel reviews as well as some avalanche accident reviews, if you have time check them out. Steve gave me a very good book to peruse this winter – Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. If you do any backcountry or wilderness sports it is worth a read. There are many stories that relate to recreating in avalanche terrain. A reoccurring theme in getting into trouble in the woods is taking a shortcut.

The Avalanche Center has received a lot of support. It would be hard to try to name everyone individually and one would inevitably miss a name but the following individuals and groups are an attempt:
Todd Frank – took over the chair position of the Foundation this year and put in lots of hours and raised a significant amount of coin.
Ross Peterson – maintains the tech portion of the website. We would be dead in the water without his expertise.
Big Sky Brewery – makes the Burning Dog Festival happen, by far the biggest fundraiser.
National Weather Service in Missoula – puts together those awesome backcountry forecasts.
USFS Observers – they go out Thursdays and Sundays and dig holes in the snow instead of skiing or riding.
Public Observers – send us good observations on their own time when touring high in the mountains.
West Central MT Avalanche Foundation Board – all these folks spend some of their precious time raising money and working fund-raising events.
Businesses that buy ads and contribute to Burning Dog – you should patronize them.
The University of Montana Campus Recreation Department – contributes personnel for data collection and advisories and logistical support for classes and presentations.
The Lolo National Forest – sponsors and assumes responsibility for the advisories.

Have a great safe summer, spring and fall.


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.