Avalanche centers brace for slope seekers

Rob Chaney

With winter finally fully engaged, Montana’s avalanche center forecasters expect some heavy activity on surrounding slopes.

Fortunately, the slow start of the season has produced nice backcountry conditions compared to recent years. A common pattern of heavy snows around Halloween followed by little accumulation until December typically produced a crumbly layer of ice under the New Year’s blizzards. In avalanche terms, that’s like trying to carry a stack of china across a kitchen floor covered in rice grains. Disaster follows a slip.

“Once we got the snow turned on, we didn’t have that many weak layers to build on,” said Blase Reardon of the Flathead Avalanche Center in Kalispell. “And now we’re at or above median snowpack at our upper elevations. That’s uncommon for us.”

The blast of warm air at the beginning of December (67 degrees in Missoula, 62 in Kalispell on Dec. 1) essentially melted away most of the late-fall snow. What fell afterward bonded well with the bare ground, producing a cohesive base layer of snow across much of western Montana’s mountainsides.

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That’s especially good considering the amount of use those slopes

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