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Weather Wise: Beartooth Highway Avalanche

Beartooth Highway avalanche
Posted at 5:12 PM, Jun 03, 2024

HELENA — The opening of the Beartooth Highway was delayed a week, but moments after the iconic road was opened this weekend there was a harsh reminder of the raw danger that exists up there. In this week's weatherwise, everyone is ok after a major avalanche that could have had lethal consequences.

The opening of the Beartooth Highway was delayed more than a week as several storms dropped feet of snow after the Montana Department of Transportation and the Yellowstone Parks Department had cleared most of the road. I have never seen the snow so deep in some areas as it is right now.

Within an hour of the opening, a significant avalanche broke on the Gardiner Headwall, a popular backcountry ski and snowmobile location. Several skiers had descended and several snowmobilers had high-marked the steep slope before the slide.

A skier and his dog triggered the avalanche that took several people for a ride. Fortunately, no one was buried and the people carried by the avalanche were able to get out themselves. Some people who were near the bottom of the runout performed a quick search with avalanche beacons just to make sure. The dog involved in the slide was stuck up near the crown and needed to be rescued from above.

Once again, everyone is safe but an avalanche this size could easily have buried several people with disastrous results. The same sequence of storms that delayed the opening has created increased avalanche danger with new snow on top of the old seasonal snowpack.

The Beartooth Highway and surrounding mountains are not for the faint of heart.