(MISSOULA) Recent snow storms are making for dangerous conditions in the Bitterroot Mountains south of Missoula.
The West Central Montana Avalanche Center has pushed its avalanche advisory to high in the Bitterroot Range, but specialists say that’s typical this time of year.
“Every season’s a little bit different; it comes and goes, ebbs and flows so it’s not unusual to have a high avalanche danger at this time of year,” said Logan King, an avalanche specialist with the West Central Montana Avalanche Center.
Avalanches are part of life in Western Montana.
“It’s the reality of the mountains,” said King, “There’s always avalanches in the mountains. There’s more some years than others, it just depends on conditions, what’s going on with weather.”
King noted that lots of snow and high winds are what’s going on with the weather in the Bitterroot Range. King warned that high wind is of chief concern.
“And the reason the wind is a problem is we have a lot of new snow for transport, and wind is way more effective at moving snow than just snow falling out of the sky by itself, so it can pile up a lot of snow really quickly and overburden the snowpack and cause a failure,” he explained.
But just how much snow is there in the Bitterroot Range? On Wednesday, crews avalanche specialists including King were checking conditions south of Hamilton near the Twin Lakes Trailhead, where he said they found nearly two feet of fresh snow that had fallen in a 24 hour period.
“So that’s a significant new load that the snow pack needs time to adjust,” the avalanche specialist said.
King said crews measured a total snow depth of 155 centimeters at the Twin Lakes Trailhead; that’s about 61″, or slightly over five feet deep. King says that it’s vital to use your best judgment — and to know when it’s time to leave — if you plan on heading into the backcountry of Western Montana.
“People should know the risks and dangers that they’re subjecting themselves to when they go out into the backcountry. They definitely want to be prepared, they want to have a beacon, a shovel, a probe and a partner,” advised King. “And they want to know how to use the rescue equipment in case they have to.”
King urges anyone who recreates in the backwoods to take an avalanche course. Click here to check out the courses being offered by the West Central Montana Avalanche Center website.