The avalanche danger is LOW in the Bitterroot mountains from Lost Trail Pass to the southern Great Burn area, the Rattlesnake mountains, and in the southern Swan and Mission mountains near Seeley Lake. Avalanche conditions are generally safe but you may find unstable snow on some isolated terrain features such as steep wind-loaded pockets. Natural and human triggered avalanches are unlikely.
The avalanche danger is MODERATE in the northern Bitterroot/Hoodoo Pass area. This area received several inches of snow and wind in the past 48 hours. Heightened avalanche conditions and human triggered avalanches are possible on wind loaded slopes steeper than 35 degrees.
Good morning! This is Steve Karkanen with your backcountry avalanche advisory from the West Central Montana Avalanche Center. It is Friday, January 25. Today’s advisory is sponsored by Perry Hooker in thanks for the return of his missing backcountry pack which was rescued by Winslow Lewis earlier this week. Thanks guys for your generous actions!
Weather and Snowpack
The high pressure ridge that dominated the area has finally moved on. Temperatures reached into the 40’s early this week and stayed above freezing for more than 24 hours at many mountain locations on Wednesday. These warm temperatures helped further consolidate the snowpack and cooler nighttime temperatures have locked it up tight. High winds and sun limited surface hoar development and the snow surface is pretty roughed up so any new snow will have a good chance to bond to it. We’re finding a layer of near surface facets in many locations which will be the next weak layer to look for once buried.
The Bitterroot received a few inches of snow with high wind by Thursday morning. The Hoodoo Pass area received 6-10 inches overnight Wednesday. High winds continued to lash the higher terrain. The primary avalanche concern in areas that received snowfall is wind slab development on steep terrain.
The Rattlesnake, the southern Swan and Mission mountains and the area near Lost Trail Pass received only a trace of precipitation and are showing good stability conditions.
Weather Forecast and Avalanche Outlook
The Missoula Weather Service Office is forecasting a trough to move through the area today with a good chance of accumulating snow through the weekend. Snowfall amounts are not expected to be great but the wind will likely move any new snow onto leeward terrain. This morning, mountain temperatures are again near the freezing point so if it does snow, it will be on the wet side, which will help it bond to the surface.
Expect the avalanche danger to increase with any new snow and wind. Pay close attention to developing wind slabs on steep terrain as these will be sensitive to human triggers.
Preparedness and Awareness
This past Monday, a solo backcountry skier called 911 and asked for help. He was having minor equipment issues (skins not staying on his skis) and felt that he could not climb the short distance to Point Six without aid. He was not injured and fully capable of getting out under his own power. This person was unfamiliar with the area, wore a pack but did not have avalanche gear, food, headlamp or even minor repair aids such as duct tape. Missoula County Search and Rescue personnel responded and extricated this person from his plight.
This is an excellent example of poor backcountry preparedness.
Emergency Services personnel, including SAR volunteers, ski patrollers, Life Flight and others will mobilize when an emergency arises and someone calls for help. These responses sometimes come at great risk and expense to those responding. This particular mission took 6 hours to complete, 54 hours of volunteer time and use of St Pat’s Hospital’s Life Flight helicopter to locate the person. Emergency services are not the like the AAA who you call when you need a tow.
If you plan to recreate in the backcountry, you need to plan for the unexpected. One must also be familiar with and know how to use your equipment.
We’ve been enjoying a mostly stable snowpack so far this winter. People have been skiing and riding steep terrain with abandon, which is just fine, until conditions change. We’re seeing many skin tracks set in known avalanche paths and start zones when there are other safe routes. Don’t abandon safe travel practices just because its bomber. Get in the habit of exposing only one person at a time on steep terrain and picking safe up-tracks. When we return to a more active weather pattern, these habits will keep you alive.
Tim Laroche will issue the next advisory on Tuesday, January 29th.