Missoula received a record one-day snowfall from Sunday into Monday, and aside from commuters maneuvering through foot high snowdrifts, there is real danger for back country hikers and skiers to a vastly increased avalanche danger.

Logan King, avalanche specialist with the Western Montana Avalanche Center explains the danger.

“The reason that avalanche danger is high right now is because we’ve had a significant load of new snow,” said King. “This news snow is very dry so it’s taken a lot to get to a heavy load. We’ve received about an inch of water and that translates into a foot and a half to two feet if new snow, and that’s a pretty unsupportable load for the old snow.”

King said the heavy new snow is causing reactive avalanches.

“We cover everywhere from Seeley all the way down to Lost Trail,” he said. “Right now the warning is for the Bitterroot Range along with the Rattlesnake south to Lost Trail. That’s where we’ve had the most concentrated amount of snowfall along with the accumulation of wind, so that’s where we’re having the greatest potential for avalanche.”

King says there are two types of avalanches.

“They can either overload the snow pack or you can have a weakness in the snow pack that is triggered by a skier or snowmobiler, but with that heavy load of news snow, it’s pretty easy to trigger an avalanche,” he said. “Outdoor recreationists should really be on the lookout for red flags like natural avalanche activity, shooting cracks, clamps or whoomphing.”

King said when hikers or backcountry skiers hear the telltale sounds of an avalanche, it’s probably too late to escape.

“Everyone should be carrying a beacon, shovel and probe,” he said. “The beacon or transceiver is so that you or your partner can find each other. Other items include an airbag or an avalung which will help you survive longer under the snow, or to help prevent you from being buried.”

The storm totals have favored the Bitterroot Mountains and the Rattlesnake. Between 12 and 20 inches of snow have fallen in these ranges over the last 24 hours.


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