BOZEMAN — Montana has had an active couple of weeks in regard to avalanches the last few weeks. We have had several natural and human-triggered avalanches despite fewer heavy snowfalls in the last 10-14 days.
According to the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC), most of these avalanches are due to a buried weak layer about two feet down. “This weak layer is the type that will stay with us for a long time,” GNFAC Director Doug Chabot told MTN News. “Any time we get a little snow or when wind adds a few inches of snow to the snowpack we can expect to start to see some avalanches.
The lack of snow is pushing backcountry enthusiasts to push the boundaries more. There have been several slides near Saddle Peak in the Bridgers, as well as on the Wyoming Bowl in Big Sky, where skiers are looking to get into fresh snow, especially at the ski areas where you can ride up to the out-of-bounds areas. “Even though you are accessing the area with a ski lift you are at a bit of a disadvantage about the snow because you didn’t skin up or climb up through it to get a hands-on or taste of what’s happening” Chabot explained. When you ride up, Chabot explained that you don’t tend to know as much about the snowpack and where those tricky areas or weak areas may be hiding.
This week is quickly becoming more active. Several rounds of light snow are expected through the early and middle part of the week with heavy snow expected on Friday and early Saturday that will bring plenty of fresh snow to southwest Montana. Several models are showing 12” or more in some of these higher mountain peaks. “As we get more snow you are going to want to investigate this layer because it is not on every slope” Chabot explained.
The weakest layer is more of a problem from Big Sky to West Yellowstone and Cooke City. The issues we are seeing in the northern ranges are mainly due to wind slabs that are loading and breaking loose according to GNFAC. That seems to be what makes our conditions tricky right now. Finding and being aware of those weak layers will be key and will be even more important as we add snow to those weak layers. You can get your avalanche updates by going to https://www.mtavalanche.coam/