Avalanches are deadly. They kill more people on public lands than fires, lightning, floods or any other natural event. In the last 10 years 114 snowmobilers have died in avalanches in the United States. Triggering a slide can be terrifying. Getting caught is horrific. Digging out your partner is hell. Assessing snow stability is a difficult skill that’s never mastered. Like every avalanche forecaster I spend most of my days studying snow, yet I still sometimes get it wrong.
In the summers I decompress and try not to think about avalanches. The problem is that I’m almost too good at it. Even after 12 years of forecasting, each fall my brain is fuzzy and rusty when it comes to snow. It’s an annual predicament that I’ll never get used to, but luckily there’s a simple solution that works every October-- I teach an avalanche course.
The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, in conjunction with the Friends of the GNFAC, is dedicated to providing avalanche education to all backcountry users that enjoy the vast outdoor resources of southwest Montana.
All of us at the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center--- Mark Staples, Eric Knoff and I, Doug Chabot--- want to thank you for a great year. We are grateful for the community support of the Gallatin National Forest and Friends of the Avalanche Center. This month finishes our 21st year of operation with a record 145 avalanche advisories.
The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC) came to life during the winter of 1990/91, 21years ago.
It's the best day ever! It has been snowing for three days straight- and now the sun is shining and the powder is perfect. You and your companions are in a secret location with not another rider around - your group couldn't be happier. But then...all of a sudden... you hear someone yell, "Avalanche!" You look up to see one of your friends high on the slope being swallowed by a wall of moving snow. What are you going to do?
It hadn’t snowed in days. I was out skiing and digging snowpits, testing the stability. Layers were bonding to one another and I couldn’t find any trouble in the snowpack. But I wasn’t happy.
Ski areas are now open and so are their backcountry access gates. The sidecountry provides great skiing and snowboarding opportunities, but also presents some challenges.