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Gusty winds causing high avalanche danger for backcountry adventurers

Avalanche Danger Sign Mount Jumbo
Posted at 1:46 PM, Feb 27, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-27 15:46:17-05

BOZEMAN — You probably noticed the gusty winds this morning, but did you know their effects on avalanche conditions? I spoke to the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center on Monday about how you can stay safe and educated on these conditions.

“I’m skinning up Bear Canyon for a little exercise, a little knee rehab,” says Brian Whitlock, who, like many in Bozeman, loves to backcountry ski. But before heading out, there’s one thing backcountry enthusiasts should be aware of—avalanche danger.

“I know there's some pretty high avy danger right now, mostly upper elevations,” says Whitlock, but why is avalanche risk so high right now?

“Wind. What wind does is it moves snow from one side of the mountain to the other. So even though we’ll say, ‘Oh, it snowed 12 inches in Cooke City,’ well, with wind, it's taking that 12 inches of snow and it’s piling it on another side of the mountain. Where instead of 12 inches, it now has maybe 24, 30 inches,” says Doug Chabot, director of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center.

Chabot says these windy conditions have increased avalanche risk throughout Montana. This windblown snow is extremely dense and the added weight is causing more slab avalanches.

“We posted an avalanche warning this morning, and what that means is we have a high avalanche danger on all slopes in the Cooke City area,” says Chabot.

The Avalanche Center has reported over six avalanches in the Cooke City area in just the last week. Although Cooke City is seeing the highest avalanche danger due to the wind and uncommon snowfall this year, the Avalanche Center suggests using caution in any backcountry situation across the state.

“It’s really a time when we’re not recommending travel in avalanche terrain. You have to be really careful if you're going outside and we expect the danger to stay with us for the next day or two,” Chabot tells us.

Which is why experienced backcountry skiers like Whitlock are always prepared.

“We carry shovels, probes, a transceiver,” says Brian.

Which the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center says is the equipment that any backcountry adventurer must have before they head out.