Scarce snow could mean severe avalanche danger when it finally comes

By RILEY PITTENGER/Montana State News

The snow conditions in and around the Gallatin valley are experiencing what many of its residents would consider a dry spell. The local avalanche center has been undergoing their yearly set of courses, updates and education during one of the most polar seasons in memory.

The lack of constant precipitation and high temperature variability that is part of this abnormally late and dry winter has become cause for worry among the forecasters and volunteers at the Gallatin Avalanche Center.

The eventual onset of snow and more people entering the backcountry is elevating the concern of local avalanche awareness experts.

Karl Wetlaufer, a certified instructor for the Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center had this to say concerning safety: “The prevalence of depth-hoar (buried snow crystals that are not bonded together making them likely to promote sliding) and temperature faceted snow has created persistently dangerous conditions throughout local ranges. Snow pack is less than ideal and highly variable throughout local ranges and everyone should approach the backcountry with caution.”

Potential for high avalanche danger in combination with a growing local desire to ski the increasingly dangerous backcountry when the snow finally falls means greater potential for mountain related fatalities.

The GNFAC urges enthusiasts to exercise caution and educated decision making throughout the winter when entering terrain where the snow conditions could adversely effect safety. For updates on snow conditions the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center can be contacted online at

Edited by Tristan Abbott.

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