Snowmobile riders and skiers maybe wondering what December will bring for their favorite winter sports. Those who are paid to watch Montana's snow and avalanche conditions say there are already plenty of places with enough snow to enjoy.
"The is snow out there. And remember, if there is enough snow on the ground to ski or snowmobile, then there is enough snow to avalanche," said Doug Chabot of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center.
Chabot said human triggered avalanches are the greatest concern. Ninety-two percent of all people caught in an avalanche either triggered it themselves, or someone in their party triggered it.
What are avalanche conditions? Avalanche danger begins when major snowstorms and winds create successive layers of unstable snow pack. Avalanches are more likely to occur during or after a snowstorm when the snow has been blowing and drifting. The new snow hasn’t bonded to the underlying snow pack and it is unstable.
About 90 percent of all avalanches start on open slopes of 30-45 degrees. Over half of all avalanche fatalities occur on small slopes of less than 300 vertical feet.
To be safe, Chabot urges winter recreationists to prepare now by inspecting and testing their avalanche survival gear, including a transceiver, probe pole and shovel.
"Now is a good time to put fresh batteries in your avalanche transciever and to inspect and do some practice drills with your gear to be sure everything is in good order," Chabot said.
Chabot said that before going out, outdoorsmen and women should also:
* take the time to call Montana’s local avalanche centers for the latest snow updates
and danger ratings,
* always travel with a partner, and
* only put one person at a time on a steep slope.
Check Montana’s avalanche centers at www.avalanche.org for specific information on the locations of past avalanches, current conditions and to learn more about online tutorials about avalanches.
"If you don’t have avalanche gear, make this the year that you acquire it," Chabot said. "You may save your life or the life of another by always carrying a transceiver, shovel and proble on your body when you are in avalanche terrain."