Blog Posts

The Pit Stop - Dig and Communicate - 1/13/2017 - Eric Knoff

The Pit Stop - Dig and Communicate

Snow ties the backcountry community together, sometimes it ties us to avalanches. Taking the time to dig a snowpit and assess snow stability provides valuable information and generates conversation between group members. Good communication leads to better decision making in avalanche terrain.

 


Slope Angle and Snow Stability - Two key factors in safe backcountry riding - 12/22/2016 - Eric Knoff

When venturing into the backcountry, answering these two questions is essential when assessing a slope to ride:

Is the terrain capable of producing an avalanche?

-and-

Can the snow slide?

Avalanches happen when four ingredients are present:  a slab, a weak layer, a trigger and a slope steep enough to slide. A key problem when assessing slope angle is that most slopes have varying degrees of steepness.  It is critical for riders to assess slope angle frequently.   


2016 Season Summary - 4/14/2016 - Doug Chabot

Greetings:

The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center just wrapped up 26 years of operation. We started the season with the threat of a dry El Nino winter which never materialized and finished with a snowpack measuring close to 100% average. March got almost as much snow as January and February combined.


Transitions to Spring Snow Avalanche Problems - 4/7/2016 - Alex Marienthal

by Alex Marienthal

Spring is here with longer days and a more predictable snowpack to facilitate objectives that are steeper and farther. These objectives are possible while maintaining a personally acceptable level of avalanche risk. However, these objectives can mean more exposure to other hazards like exposed terrain and prolonged rescue, which increases the consequences of relatively small accidents. The snowpack structure is changing from cold, dry layers to warm, wet and icy layers. This transition creates a fresh mix of avalanche problems.


Another viewpoint on a Backcountry Magazine article - 11/6/2015 - Doug Chabot

Digging a Snowpit Matters

An online article posted October 29, 2015 for BackcountryMagazine.com on snowpits, avalanche character, and the difficulties and risks of traveling in various types of snow, is a welcome early season jump-start to get us thinking about snow and avalanches. Every snow climate is different and every professional forecaster looks at the snowpack through his and her own forecasting lens, but we are all trying to increase the understanding of avalanches in order have fun and stay alive.


Great article by Chris Lundy on digging pits! - 10/21/2015 - Doug Chabot
2002: Lundy at the crown of an avalanche

 

Chris Lundy, owner of Sawtooth Mountain Guides, wrote a great article in Backcountry Magazine about digging pits. He opens the story with a personal account of triggering an avalanche. I was with him that day. We triggered the slide up Fisher Creek outside Cooke City on March 10, 2002. 


Afghanistan: Panjshir Valley Avalanches - 6/25/2015 - Doug Chabot
Panjshir plowing

On February 25, 2015 the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan had an avalanche cycle that killed at least 168 people.  The reports at the time claimed over 200 dead making international headlines. A few weeks ago I visited the valley and wrote this "Official" report. I wrote it for Hameed Habibi who runs the Afghanistan Avalanche Control Team at the Salang Tunnel.

The fatality numbers (168) are the best we could gather based on interviews. If anything, they might be slightly understated.


2015 Season Summary - 4/16/2015 - Doug Chabot
2015 Season Summary

April 16, 2015

Greetings:

What a strange year it has been.  We started strong with many storms and early season snow, followed by spring weather in February and March and then one of the biggest snowfalls of the season yesterday. Go figure. Although skiing and snowmobiling conditions were bipolar, the snowpack was generally stable with more days of “Low” avalanche danger than any of us can remember.


SPRING IN THE BACKCOUNTRY A look at late season snow conditions - 4/15/2015 - Eric Knoff

Spring skiing can be some of the best of the season. Good snow coverage, warmer weather and more predictable snow stability (at times) can lead to unmatched conditions. While spring skiing can be the best, it can also hold avalanche hazards not encountered during the colder parts of winter.

As snowpack and weather transition into a warmer and wetter spring pattern, there are a number of avalanche variables to pay attention to.


Five Easy Steps to Safe Backcountry Riding - 3/12/2015 - Eric Knoff

Five Easy Steps to Safe Backcountry Riding

By: Eric Knoff

Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center


Recognizing Avalanche Terrain - 3/12/2015 - Eric Knoff

Recognizing Avalanche Terrain

By

Eric Knoff

Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center

The snowpack changes from year to year, even day to day but, the terrain on which snow falls remains constant. Understanding and recognizing avalanche terrain are critical tools for safe decision making in the backcountry.

During stable snow conditions, riding in avalanche terrain is safe and acceptable. When snow conditions are unstable, avoiding steep slopes and avalanche run out zones is key to avoiding avalanches.


Some Thoughts on Surface Hoar - 1/20/2015 - Doug Chabot
Surface Hoar near West Yellowstone

Published in the April 2015 issue of The Avalanche Review.

Lynne Wolfe, editor of TAR, asked me to jot a few thoughts down on how we manage surface hoar once it is buried. This is the email I sent back to her.


"Sidecountry": Rated R - 1/19/2015 - Doug Chabot
Backcountry Begins Here!

Published in the January 2015 issue of Carve.

R: RESTRICTED. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

An R-rated film includes “…adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously.” Sidecountry is more serious than the most serious film because people of all ages can die in the sidecountry, especially youth that lack adult supervision or perspective. A young adult sneaking into a theater might face consequences if caught, but heading out-of-bounds of a ski area into the sidecountry is an entirely different level of risk.


GNFAC and Friends of GNFAC survery from class at Montana State University - 12/31/2014 - Mark Staples

Published in the February 2015 issue of The Avalanche Review.

The Class


Human-Factors and Digging - 12/31/2014 - Doug Chabot

By Doug Chabot

Published in the February 2015 issue of The Avalanche Review.

As an avalanche forecaster and educator I pay close attention to teaching the recreating public about heuristic traps, aka human-factors, and their role in avalanche accidents. A powerful voice is Powder Magazine’s riveting five-part Human-Factors series which did a great job of pointing out those traps.


Put Your Shovel In The Snow! - 12/8/2014 - Doug Chabot
Eric digging a pit on the throne

Published in the Dec 2014 Carve

Put your shovel in the snow!

This simple act could save your life. Pausing to assemble your shovel and dig a few scoops can sometimes reveal a hidden but, once exposed, obvious weak layer. Taking a few more minutes to perform an Extended Column Test (ECT) may give you strong evidence of unstable slopes. When conditions seem good most people have already made their decision to ski or not by the time they reach the top of a slope, but an ECT might change your mind and save your life. Conversely, if you decide to not ski because of dangerous conditions there is no need to dig. Regardless of experience, if we play in avalanche terrain we should hunt for instability.


Minimizing Uncertainty in the Backcountry - 11/12/2014 - Eric Knoff

             There are no stoplights in the backcountry. The decision to ride into uncontrolled-avalanche terrain is a personal one with risks and rewards. Done correctly, pinning the throttle through a field of untracked powder or climbing a steep mountain face can produce unmatched excitement, but riding in avalanche terrain can produce severe and sometimes deadly consequences.


The Effect of Changing Slope Angle on Compression Test Results - 10/22/2014 - Doug Chabot
2014 ISSW CT Slope Angle Poster

Presented at the 2014 ISSW in Banff, Canada.

Conducting stability tests in avalanche terrain is inherently dangerous since it exposes the observer to the potential of being caught in an avalanche. Recent work shows that such exposure may be unnecessary since the results of extended column tests (ECTs) and propagation saw tests (PSTs) are largely independent of slope angle, allowing for data collection in safer locations.


The PST with a twist: Comparing the standard PST to the cross slope PST - 10/22/2014 - Eric Knoff

Presented at the 2014 ISSW 

In recent years, the propagation saw test (PST) gained popularity for both avalanche professionals and backcountry recreationalists. A limiting factor of the PST is the additional time required to isolate a column on the sidewall of the snowpit. Since I often have limited time to dig multiple pits during a work day, this past season I examined the effectiveness of conducting cross-slope PSTs (CPST). The CPST is simply a PST done across, rather than up, the slope. It is more efficient than the PST, particularly after conducting an extended column test (ECT).


Successes and Challenges of Snowmobile Education - 10/21/2014 - Mark Staples

Presented at the 2014 ISSW in Banff, Canada.

For the last 24 years, the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center has achieved many successes in snowmobile avalanche education but many challenges remain. Building on the efforts of many others and the work outlined by the GNFAC at an ISSW twelve years ago, our snowmobile education has evolved considerably. Live recoveries, unheard of only 10 years ago, seemingly occur every winter now.