Dec 12, 2008 @ 12:00 am

Information Update for Dec.12

Early Season Avalanche Information
Posted December 12th, 2008

This is Steve Karkanen at the West Central Montana Avalanche Center with early season avalanche information and news from the avalanche center. We begin issuing regular avalanche advisories on December 19th and will update snow and weather information prior to this as conditions change. This information is the sole responsibility of the Forest Service and does not apply to operating ski areas.

All of us at the Avalanche Center and the Bitterroot, Clearwater and Lolo National Forests express our sincere condolences to the friends and families of Lisa Jones and Steven “Max” Haldeman who died in a tragic fall near St. Mary Peak in the Bitterroot Mountains last Saturday.

It’s finally starting to look like winter will arrive. NOAA Missoula Weather Service Office is forecasting a significant winter storm to begin affecting our area this weekend. A strong moist Pacific front with significant snow will move through Friday night while very cold arctic air spills over the Continental Divide from the northeast during the weekend. This collision of warm moist air from the west and very cold air from the east may result in heavy snowfall and high wind speeds. Near blizzard conditions are possible especially in the mountains and passes. The falling temperatures and high winds will also generate dangerous wind chills of as much as 30 degrees below zero in some areas Sunday night.

SNOTEL sites reported temperatures approaching 40 degrees last Saturday as a weather system moved through the area bringing rain up to 9500′. This rain left a nasty ice lens on everything as surface temperatures were in the teens and low 20’s when it first arrived. This weather event was a contributing factor in last Saturday’s accident. Average temperatures have been in the 20’s since then and most locations picked up a few inches of snow.

We’ve received reports from several different areas in the Bitterroot and Southern Swan mountains this week all indicating mostly stable but shallow and funky skiing conditions. There are pockets of buried surface hoar crystals on the colder shaded aspects above 6000′ and melt-freeze or rain crusts were failing with a moderate amount of force during stability testing. While these features are not currently much of a problem, they will need to be treated with suspicion once it starts snowing heavily. The primary concerns now are wind slabs on slopes steeper than 35 degrees where the anchors have been covered.

Expect avalanche danger to increase this weekend as the mountains begin to receive heavy snow and wind. Be increasingly cautious during this weekend storm. Never expose more than 1 person at a time to a slope steep enough to slide, have a transceiver, probe pole and shovel on you and know how to use them. If you get out and see something you’d like to share with us, send us a note at [email protected]. Have a safe weekend!

Avalanche Advisories

We’ve made a few changes to our program this year. We will be issuing advisories 2 days each week, on Monday and Friday mornings starting December 19th. This is in response to backcountry users asking for updated avalanche information to cover the early part of the week. This would not be possible without the financial support from our friends group, the West Central Montana Avalanche Foundation. This organization is vital to our ability to continue to provide avalanche advisories and education in Western Montana. They are a 501 (c) 3 non-profit and you can donate directly to this good cause from this website.

We are dropping our coverage of the St. Regis Basin area near Lookout Pass. We felt it was unnecessary for 2 centers to cover this area, the terrain and elevation is more similar to areas the Panhandle Avy Center covers in their advisory and most users are from ID and WA locations. The Idaho Panhandle NF Avalanche Center will continue to issue avalanche advisories for the St. Regis Basin. Bookmark their website at:

Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center

Beacon Basin Training Parks

Have an avalanche transceiver? Do you practice using it? Be honest… Beacon Basin training parks are a fun and user friendly way to become proficient with any type of avalanche transceiver. The Foundation has purchased 2 Beacon Basin training parks that will be operational this winter. One training park will be set up at Lolo Pass and another at Montana Snowbowl. Users will be required to check out the control unit from the Visitor Center staff at Lolo Pass and from the ski patrol at Snowbowl. There is no cost to use these excellent training tools.

Check out this article about Beacon Basin Training Parks:

If you have any avalanche or snowpack information you’d like to share or have questions about the upcoming season, please contact us at [email protected].

Regular avalanche advisories will be posted starting December 19, 2008.


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.