Snowslide science: How and why we study avalanches

Thom Bridge

In Montana’s backcountry, as well as along some well-traveled highways and railroads, avalanches are a cause for concern.

Scientists have been working for decades to better understand these natural phenomena for a number of reasons – the biggest being to save lives. At the same time, national forests have created avalanche forecasting services to provide daily information to backcountry snowmobilers, snowshoers, skiers and snowboard about weather and avalanche conditions. Combined with newer cellphone apps, beacons, airbag backpacks and avalanche safety courses, backcountry users can be better prepared than ever for winter outings.

Despite all of this work, avalanche fatalities continue to capture headlines. The most recent in Montana was the death of a Washington man snowmobiling outside Cooke City. 

To learn more, I spoke with Billings Gazette Outdoors Editor Brett French. 

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Jeff Carty, director of the West Central Montana Avalanche Center, collects field data during a backcountry tour north of Missoula Jan. 9.


This podcast is created in partnership across five newsrooms – the Billings Gazette, the Helena Independent Record, the Missoulian, the Montana Standard and the Ravalli-Republic. You

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