BOZEMAN, Mont. – The new snow mixed with warmer temperatures after the week-long cold snap is elevating the risk of human triggered avalanches in southwest Montana.
On Feb. 17, the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC) raised the Gallatin, Madison and Bridger mountain ranges to a high avalanche danger level and wants you to be safe this weekend if you are headed up to the mountain.
Two tragic deaths, one at Bridger Bowl Ski Area and one in the Madison mountain range, were both related to the heavy amounts of snowfall and a weak snowpack.
BOZEMAN, Mont. - Bridger Bowl reported a fatality within the ski area boundary Tuesday, Feb. 16.
“The next few days you really need to be careful because we just added a ton of new snow to the snowpack and it needs time to adjust," GNFAC Director Doug Chabot explained. "As we move out of the warning, we’re really starting to get worried about human triggering cause that means you know the weight of a person, they can hit the right spot, collapse that weak layer and then we can see some big avalanches.”
At least 20-30 inches of snow fell in just a few days with westerly wind.
The weight of the new snow is overloading a weak snowpack and creating very dangerous avalanche conditions.
Chabot said the message is to take to the backcountry with a friend, take a shovel, and avoid any backcountry avalanche terrain and avalanche runout zones.
If you're headed up to the mountain be careful driving on the icy roads that will continue to thaw out during the day and refreeze during the nights.
Chabot emphasized using your car as a home base and make sure you can drive safely out of where you park while bringing a friend, extra clothes, foods and avalanche equipment in case of emergencies.
More information and daily updates on avalanche danger can be found on the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center website here.