Oct 27, 2009 @ 12:00 am

Halloween Week Avalanche Information

Hello and Happy Halloween!

This is Steve Karkanen at the West Central Montana Avalanche Center with an early season avalanche information statement. It is October 27, 2009 and though we have not seen a lot of early season snow, we clearly have conditions in some isolated areas where avalanches can happen.

This past weekend, on 10/24, 4 skiers in 2 separate groups triggered and were caught in an avalanche on a steep NE facing slope above 9000′ near Gem Lake in the Southern Bitterroot Mountains. All went for a ride, were tumbled and banged up but able to recover. One person sustained minor injuries requiring a visit to a local hospital. All were able to extricate themselves and able to walk back to the trailhead under their own power.

Check out this excellent write-up and photos submitted by one of the involved individuals:

Gem Lake – Southern Bitterroots – October 24, 2009

On Halloween, a very similar incident occurred in the Tobbacco Root Mountains NW of Ennis, MT. The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center posted an excellent report and photos on their website.

Granite Peak – Tobbacco Roots – Halloween 2009.

These candid narratives reminds us of just how easily we can find ourselves in a life or death scenario at a time of year when avalanches are far from the conscious mind.

Hunters are not immune from this danger and may be more at risk in avalanche terrain than snow riders. Avalanche danger is the furthest thing from a hunters mind. Being armed to the teeth does not prepare one for avalanche risk. Just consider where you travel in the mountains. No snow, no problem. Snow on a steep open slope that has covered up the rocks and beargrass may indeed be a problem.

While we have little or no snow in most mountain locations, terrain above 6000′ has received snow and the sheltered aspects are holding it. The brutal cold temperatures we experienced around homecoming weekend (10/10) formed a faceted layer of crystals that were buried in later storms. This appears to be the culprit in the incident last weekend. It will need to be considered wherever early October snow established itself mostly on North aspects above 9000′ particularly in wind loaded areas.

Winter 2009-2010 plan.

We plan to begin regular Monday and Friday avalanche advisories starting in mid-December. We will post information statements earlier as needed depending on weather and snow conditions.

We’re starting to schedule our winter avalanche training sessions. Stay tuned to our schedule on the education and events page and call us if you are interested in scheduling a class for your organization or group.

Avalanche Transceiver Training Parks

This year we have 3 avalanche transceiver training parks available for interested individuals or groups. They are located at Lolo Pass Visitor Center, Lost Trail Ski Area and Montana Snowbowl. The training parks at Lolo Pass and Lost Trail will be accessible by anyone at no charge. Both are located close to parking. The Snowbowl training park is located at the top of Snowbowl and requires purchase of a lift ticket to access the site.

These beacon parks are the result of partnerships and donations to the West Central Montana Avalanche Foundation by snowmobile clubs, backcountry skiers, search and rescue groups and individuals.

If you get out and have any interesting snow or weather observations you’d care to share, or want more information about upcoming classes, please contact us at [email protected] or call 406-329-3752.

Have a safe Halloween and get ready! The Burning Dog fund raising events seem to work (with two epic winters in a row) and there’s no reason to doubt this year will be any different!


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.