Heading out to Montana’s Backcountry? What you need to know

The Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue building off Tamarack Street.

BOZEMAN, Mont. – If you’re looking to “Get Lost” out in Montana’s beautiful backcountry this weekend, officials are asking you to take precautions so they don’t have to help you “Get Found.”

The Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue (GCSAR) and Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC) always encourage backcountry outings but want to warn people of the fresh snow and frigid cold temperatures.

In January, GCSAR volunteers dropped everything to respond to a call 113 times for 15 calls, three searches, 12 rescues, and two mutual aid events.

“Snowmobiling has completely dominated the calls lately especially in West Yellowstone they’ve seen a huge, huge amount of snowmobile accidents,” Search and Rescue Captain Scott Secor said. “It’s not just from vacationers out-of-town, it’s also people right here in Bozeman and Gallatin County.”

Both GCSAR and GNFAC said they are seeing more and more people taking to the backcountry just like in the summer during the COVID-19 pandemic with trips to Montana State Parks and national parks in Montana during certain summer months.

“We are seeing a lot more people in the backcountry then we’ve seen ever, we saw this this summer because of COVID restrictions, and I love it, we encourage that, but we want them to do it safely,” GNFAC Director Doug Chabot said.

Chabot’s tips to backcountry winter enthusiasts, go with a partner, carry avalanche rescue gear, transceiver beacon and a shovel, and feel free to take an avalanche class with a field component to learn how to dig in the snow and look for in the snow to understand what is under your feet.

Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue equipment

A snowmobile along with other search and rescue equipment and vehicles that have been used by the GCSAR.

“Pack as if you’re going to stay the night, pack as if no one is going to come get you and you have to survive the night so that’s extra clothes, fire making stuff, food, water, tools, first aid,” Captain Secor added. “It sounds excessive but a fun trip during the day could turn into a nightmare overnight if you’re not prepared.”

According to Captain Secor, one of the biggest things is making sure your phone is charged so you can get a call out and they can trace your phone to the last location which helped them find a hiker up on the M Trail on Monday.

“The buddy system and the phone, that has saved more lives than any of the other ones combined,” Captain Secor emphasized.

Rescue at the M Trail
GCSAR were called to search for a lost hiker on the M trail. The hiker called 911 early, was dressed for the conditions, remained calm, and provided good information for a quick search and rescue.

The U.S. Forest Service National Avalanche Center and GNFAC have a free avalanche report updated every day to track avalanche danger across the state and country that can be found here.

“We have really bad, sugary, fragile snow kind of at the ground and we just put a huge load on it and so that’s why we had all the natural avalanche activity.” Chabot said. “Right now we’re not expecting to see in the coming days natural avalanche activity, but we will start to see more human triggered activity because people are getting out.”

More information on the Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue can be found here.

More information on the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center can be found here.

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