January 4, 2013 Avalanche Advisory

Avalanche Danger in the west central Montana backcountry is rated at LOW. LOW avalanche danger does not mean “no avalanche danger”. There is always some amount of avalanche risk in riding and skiing steep slopes. Today, that risk might be an isolated wind slab on a high exposed ridge, or a loose snow sluff on a slope steeper than 35 degrees.

Good morning. This Dudley Improta with the West Central Montana Avalanche Center’s advisory for January 4, 2013.

Weather and Snowpack Analysis

Drier air and high pressure did indeed enter our region for the New Year. Temperatures at higher elevations have been quite warm during the daylight hours for the past few days. The weather did settle the snowpack and it is fairly evident from the numbers of skiers and riders recreating on steep terrain that the avalanche danger is LOW for now.

Yesterday we received observations from the southern Missions, southern Swans, Rattlesnakes, South Fork of Lolo Creek, Hoodoo Pass, Lookout Pass and Lost Trail Pass. All reports indicate a very stable snowpack. Loose snow sluffs were noted on very steep slopes and there is the slight possibility of triggering a wind slab on a high exposed leeward slope.

Many of us are enjoying the recent conditions and riding and skiing steep lines. Don’t be lulled into complacency when conditions change this winter.

Weather Forecast and Avalanche Outlook

The recent weather has promoted surface hoar formation on many aspects. The sun was strong enough to break down the surface hoar on some southerly aspects; but the freezing, thawing and radical temperature changes on those sun-exposed slopes may form a sun crust and /or faceted snow in the upper layers of the pack. We all want more snow; we should all pay attention to how much new snow we get and how it bonds (or doesn’t bond) to current surfaces.

Today a weak disturbance is expected to increase clouds and possibly produce light snow. A brief high pressure builds into the region tonight and Saturday, but should begin to break down on Sunday. Next week expect unsettled weather and moderate snowfall.

Lift-Served Backcountry Skiing

Avalanche specialists and ski area managers have decided they don’t like the term sidecounty. They feel the term may conjure up a notion of safety beyond the ski area boundaries. Sidecountry, slackcountry; remember when it was called “ducking the ropes”? Some skis are now promoted as perfect for slicing up the off –piste powder and then carving turns on the groomers back to the lifts. Either way you cut it, using the lifts to gain access to uncontrolled terrain is as popular as fly-fishing in Montana.

Here’s a few thoughts why lift –served backcountry skiing may be more inherently dangerous than straight-up backcountry skiing:

  1. You’re approaching the terrain from the top. You may not gather clues as if you were climbing from a trailhead; i.e. whoomphing, collapses, recent activity, etc.
  2. There may be a false sense of security because of the proximity of the ski area and the patrol (if buried in an avalanche you may have 15 minutes, maybe).
  3. You may not be as adequately prepared as you would be if leaving from a trailhead. You may not have that full pack if you “duck the rope” looking for that quick fresh line.
  4. The possibility of others skiing and riding down on top of you is greater.

More Info

You can view current season snowpit profiles here: 2012/2013 season snowpit profiles

If you’re out and see avalanche activity or have other observations, you can use our public observations form . If you would like to send us a note or have an avalanche question use [email protected].

Check this page for education opportunities. missoulaavalanche education and events

Kettlehouse pint night to  benefit missoulaavalanche is January 16.

Ski & ride safe; have a great weekend!

Tim Laroche will issue the next advisory Tuesday, January 8.