Small team, long hours: Avalanche forecasters travel far in western Montana

Joshua Murdock

As swirls of snow blew into the mountainside pit where he was sitting on Monday, Jeff Carty carefully ran a saw blade uphill through a weak layer of snow deep in the snowpack. 

Jeff Carty, director of the West Central Montana Avalanche Center. 

JOSHUA MURDOCK, Missoulian

A moment after he started, the entire weak layer gave way and the thick slab of snow above it slid downslope under its own weight. 

“I really did not want to find that,” Carty said, surveying the now split-open weak layer of angular, faceted snow crystals about 31 inches down from the surface. “The structure is poor enough that I wouldn’t want to tickle it. It feels good, though. It’s denser than it has been. It’s definitely bonding.” 

The test result would help Carty, the director of the West Central Montana Avalanche Center, and the center’s two other forecasters assemble their avalanche forecast for the next day. The three forecasters perform the critical work of informing thousands of backcountry travelers on avalanche problems they may encounter and where those problems likely

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