High Wind and Cold Combine for Western Montana Avalanche Danger
The Missoula Avalanche Center is your "must visit" website if you're heading into the backcountry on skis, snowmobiles, or whatever. Safety is the priority for these folks, especially when there have already been at least 10 deaths throughout the U.S. from avalanches this winter.
The cold temperatures are of concern to anyone out in the mountains, with temperatures below zero--which are made more dangerous by wind conditions. The wind chill (which has been reaching at least 20 below) can cause frostbite on exposed skin within 10 minutes.
Where there is avalanche risk in western Montana
The wind also causes what are called Wind Slabs, which were forming on the eastern slopes of the Bitterroot Mountains in a report from West Fork Camp Creek yesterday. Some new snow was reported in the Lost Trail Pass area, too. Avalanche danger early this week was "Moderate" throughout the observation area from Seeley Lake, through the Rattlesnake and along the Bitterroot Mountains. Instability on the slopes in the West Fork and in the Lost Trail backcountry was expected to increase through the week. Last week there was also some avalanche activity in the Gash Creek and Sweathouse Creek areas.
Wind was also a problem in the Lolo area with 77 mph winds at the Lolo Pass Visitor Center. And the shifting wind direction is hard to predict. Caution is always advised in conditions like we've been having. If you hear the sounds of large Whumphs or see shooting cracks in the snow surface, take it seriously. Avoid wind-loaded slopes over 35 degrees, where wind slab avalanches could be triggered.
The public is encouraged to add their own observations at the avalanche website. And the site also has opportunities to learn more about avalanches and general backcountry safety. A free Zoom Webinar about Backcountry Travel is planned Thursday evening, but you need to pre-register.