The West Central Montana Avalanche Center issued an advisory Saturday setting the danger for an avalanche as “Considerable” in backcountry areas at 6,500 feet and above.
In a statement from the center’s avalanche forecaster, Todd Glew said fresh snow and wind have overloaded the snow pack, and made for hazardous conditions. According to Glew, the weak snowpack structure, combined with high winds, has the potential for large avalanches that break near the ground level.
The advisory covers the Rattlesnake, Bitterroot and the southern tip of the Swan mountain ranges. The advisory does not apply to operating ski areas and will expire at midnight Saturday.
“If you get out in the mountains, be on the lookout for red flags such as cracking or collapsing. Dig a snow pit and perform stability tests,” the statement said.
LeeAnn Allegretto, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Missoula, said avalanche season for Montana typically begins in early December, and can last into April or May.
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“As soon as snow starts accumulating, it can start sliding. Things changed a little bit this year because of the freak storm we had in September,” she said.
Allegretto also made the distinction between advisories and warnings when it comes to avalanches. She said advisories cover a broader range, and bring the focus to local avalanche centers that then decide whether a specific area poses a threat.
The Flathead Avalanche Center issued an avalanche warning Friday for the Swan Range, Flathead Range and Glacier National Park following high winds and snowfall that piled on buried weak layers.
“Currently, the avalanche threat is trending down. Although the threat of a human-triggered avalanche remains probable and a natural avalanche possible. It’s not as bad as it was (Friday),” said Zack Guy, the director of the Flathead Avalanche Center.