Western Montana faces avalanche dangers: how to stay safe

Posted at 4:21 PM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-08 15:32:43-05

MISSOULA — It is all fun and games hiking into the backcountry for the perfect line — but only if you do it safely.

“We're suspecting that natural avalanches will be likely, human triggered avalanches will be likely, and we're suggesting that people do not travel in the backcountry for the duration of the storm,” said West Central Montana Avalanche Center Director Jeff Carty.

Western Montana has seen quite the snow accumulation which makes for the perfect storm — an avalanche storm that is. With a combination of cold and then warmer temperatures, new snowfall and wind, Carty says the avalanche risk is high. With slab avalanches being the top concern this week.
“A human triggered avalanche, or natural, is some trigger- whether it's overloading from too much snow, the weight of a person, a cornice falling — that causes a failure within a weak layer below that and that propagates underneath the slab that delaminate the slab from the slope and that whole slope will slide as a whole piece,” Carty told MTN News.

Carty urges people to get the proper training before leaving the gates or trailhead.

“You know, you can travel in the backcountry without traveling in avalanche terrain, but it takes training to recognize the avalanche terrain and avoid what the hazardous slopes are," said Carty.

That includes the proper gear. The basics needed are a beacon, probe and shovel, so recreationists can check for those weak spots. And if something does go wrong, you will have the gear to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. However, the gear won’t be useful unless you know how to use it.

“A one-hour class isn't enough to give you the knowledge to travel in the backcountry but it should raise your awareness about the hazards,” said Carty.

Carty says that before you go into the back or side country, taking an Avy 1 course is a must. With backcountry skiing becoming more and more popular every year, courses are filling up fast. Carty suggests you get on a class waitlist if you are interested in going out of bounds. You can register here.

Being aware of conditions is a key piece of the puzzle. You can check the avalanche risk in Western Montana areas here.