Montana Outdoors

Dec 22, 2010 8:39 AM by Laura Wilson (KAJ News)

Avalanche awareness stressed in Northwest Montana

KALISPELL - An avalanche killed two people on the backside of Big Mountain just three years ago and now experts are saying that backcountry conditions are shaping up, for yet another potentially deadly avalanche season.

Tuesday marked the first official day of winter, but many skiers have been up at Whitefish Mountain Resort for weeks now.

Ski patrol officials say that in light of recent weather conditions and avalanche warnings, it is important for people to learn about the dangers and safety precautions of back country terrain.

"For a long time, we've had signs at our boundaries and common exit points that spell out the dangers of going out of bounds, and [we] encourage people to have proper equipment, which means shovels, probes, and beacons and to not ski alone," commented Donnie Clapp with Whitefish Mountain Resort.

He added that backcountry skiers need more than just the proper equipment before heading out, they also need to have the proper knowledge of the area they're exploring.

"You want to check conditions, you want to take a course on avalanche safety, you want to know how to read the snowpack."

Avalanche control work is large part of what ski patrol does each week and so many skiers get used to the constant inbounds maintenance and grooming, causing them to underestimate what they encounter out-of-bounds according to Clapp.

"Inside, ski patrol has spent countless hours are year long mitigating the risk of avalanche and they have not done a single day of that...a single minute of that, outside of the boundaries."

Clapp also stressed that anyone headed out to enjoy the white stuff needs to have up-to-date avalanche equipment since the ski patrol does not perform out-of-bounds rescues.

Click here to check out the latest avalanche warnings for Northwest Montana issued by the Glacier Country Avalanche Center.

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