This has been a good week for powder hounds.
With the holiday week looming, the state’s first big winter storm was just what the ski doctor ordered for western Montana ski areas.
But for those who choose to ski out of bounds and in the backcountry, all that new snow is the perfect recipe for disaster.
The Flathead Avalanche Center issued an avalanche advisory for a widespread area in northwest Montana where the potent storm dropped upwards of 3 feet of dense snow on top of a fragile layer of hoarfrost and layer of rain-crusted snow.
The advisory urged folks who like to venture into the backcountry to be patient and allow the snow to settle before venturing out.
“Large and destructive human-triggered slab avalanches are likely on slopes greater than 30 degrees,” it read.
For those looking for a chance to hit the slopes of area ski resorts, the snow couldn’t have come at a better time.
“There are a lot of happy powder hounds here right now,” said Whitefish Mountain Resort’s Riley Polumbus on Wednesday morning, following a night that brought 8 new inches of snow to the mountain.
Over the past week, 28 inches of new snow had fallen on the mountain’s summit to raise its total to 57 inches of settled base. The new snow was just what the resort needed to open Chair 2 and a good bit of new terrain on the front side of the mountain.
“If all goes well, we will be in good shape for the upcoming holiday,” Polumbus said. “We might be 100 percent open by Christmas … This storm’s timing was perfect. Everyone is pretty happy about it. It’s not going to be just a white Christmas. It’s going to be a deep one, too.”
Blacktail Mountain Ski Area’s general manager Steve Spencer was happy to see the 2 feet of snow that dropped on the slopes west of Lakeside.
The mountain had plenty of snow early, but a Pineapple Express in November brought 50-degree weather and three days of rain that pushed back opening day to Dec. 23.
“Right now, we have lots of snow to pound down,” Spencer said. “It should be a great powder day when we open Saturday. After that, we’ll be open every day through the first of January.”
The area depends on natural snow to cover its runs.
“Normally, we’re open the first or second week of December, but we are somewhat at the mercy of the weather,” he said. “We have all north slope, which generally means that once we get the snow, we keep it.”
Skiers this year will have another 60 acres of tree skiing at Blacktail this winter.
“We got quite a bit of logging done,” Spencer said. “I think people will like it.”
Missoula’s Montana Snowbowl is opening up new runs every day after about a foot of snow dropped on the area Wednesday.
“The snow is really great up here right now,” said Snowbowl ski shop’s Regan Killmer.
With 54 inches at the summit and 36 inches at the base, Killmer said people are finding lots of powder in the terrain that’s opened so far.
“They kind of let the snow go for a few days before grooming and the powder just off the runs is pretty deep,” Killmer said. “In the trees, it’s just awesome.
"For us not having much at all to start, it’s suddenly looking pretty good. We’ve had quite a lot of snow come in the last couple of days.”
The ski area is now open seven days a week, with the exception of Christmas Day.
At Lost Trail Powder Mountain on the southern edge of the Bitterroot Valley, Judy Grasser said 13 inches of light powder snow has arrived at the mountain over the past couple of days.
The area has been open since late November with enough snow to cover its slope, but Grasser said this last storm “was the big one that we really needed.”
Under blue skies and crisp temperatures Thursday, Grasser said the mountain opened even more runs with the opening of its Chair 4.
“We’ve got lots of people here today,” she said. “It looks like it’s going to be a really nice holiday week.”