The Missoula backcountry avalanche forecast advises caution to those who are planning skiing, snowshoe or snowmobiling in West Central Montana, including the canyons of the Bitterroot Mountains. The avalanche danger was rated as “Considerable” in the Tuesday and Wednesday, December 21-22, forecast.

The report from the Missoula Avalanche website reported wind- caused problems, especially in the higher elevations from the Rattlesnake to Lolo and to all along the Bitterroots into Ravalli County. Skiers and snowmobilers should pay attention to blowing snow and avoid slopes greater than 35 degrees. That includes the southern Bitterroot where the recommendation is to “avoid travel on slopes steeper than 30 degrees. Avalanches from flatter terrain below, above, and to the sides of steep slopes are possible.”

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Forecasters are expecting wind to play a role in causing more danger this week, moving snow into dangerous wind slabs. West winds of 20 mph and strong 35 mph gusts are expected for the Mission Mountains, the Seeley zone, Rattlesnake and Central Bitterroot. The winds in the southern Bitterroot are expected to be from the southwest. And more snowfall, possibly up to a foot of the white stuff in some places, is due.

The conditions, of course, change daily. The stronger winds in the high elevations can cause thick snow wind slabs which could injury or bury you. Look for “cornices above the slope and be aware of hollow-sounding pillows of drifted snow and shooting cracks.”

snow pit
A snow pit to determine avalanche danger. (Missoula Avalanche photo)
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When you go out, make sure you’re well-prepared with a beacon, shovel and a probe. Don’t travel in the backcountry without them. And you might want to practice using them…in a safe location. The public can report their own observations to the Missoula website from their trips into the backcountry. The online site is at missoulaavalanche.org.

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