The winter of 2009/10 was the busiest season the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center has had in its twenty years of operation - 87 avalanche incidents were reported in southwest Montana. The incidents reported included 21 people caught, 9 partial burials, 3 full burials and 3 fatalities, but this is, unfortunately, not the full picture. Inherently, many avalanche events were never reported to the forecast center.
In 2005, after 16 years of use, the U.S. and Canadian professional avalanche community decided the danger scale needed to be revised. Words like "probable" were confusing, and the scale was weighted toward probability instead of consequence.
This winter, the Climate Prediction Center is predicting a La Nina (the girl) weather pattern, which should bring colder temperatures and more snow to western Montana.
We just finished our 20th year of operation at the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC). All three of us had a great, safe season and owe a huge thanks to all our supporters in the community, co-workers on Gallatin National Forest, and Friends of the Avalanche Center (FOAC). We could not have succeeded without all of your help.
I can't believe this is happening. I watch my friend ski a beautiful line, but the slope avalanches in slow motion. It swallows him from behind and I can't see him. I scream, "Avalanche!", but I don't know if he heard me. He's buried. I know it.
Knowing the tools and skills of safe travel in avalanche terrain is an essential component of making informed decisions in this environment. These tools include having rescue gear and knowing how to use it, understanding avalanche terrain, recognizing signs of instability and making smart choices.
The agility and power of today's snowmobiles allow riders to easily access avalanche terrain with a speed and thrill that makes it easy to overlook noticeable sings of snow instability. Paying attention to clues of instability and knowing how to react to them is a sizeable advantage in staying safe while riding in the backcountry.
Sidecountry is defined as out-of-bounds, backcountry terrain that is accessed from a ski area. The ski lifts make getting to the backcountry easier for everybody and more accessible to the uninitiated, but does not provide any more safety since there is no avalanche control or ski patrol services in the out-of-bounds.
Last year the GNFAC taught 62 avalanche education classes to more than 4,300 people in southwest Montana. Grade school and graduate students, skiers and snowmobilers, search and rescue groups, ski patrols, Rotary clubs and businesses attended classes, all there for the same thing-to learn about avalanches. During Q&A sessions many people asked questions. Here's an attempt to answer the most common ones.