Good weekend for Montana outdoors, with caution
If you've become increasingly frantic waiting for more stable weather to get out and enjoy winter recreation in Montana, this could be the weekend you've been waiting for.
However, just days after the first fatality of the winter, avalanche forecasters are warning people to enjoy themselves, but use caution and safety awareness.
A 21-year-old Washington man died when he was caught in a slide while snowmobiling near the top of a slope outside Cooke City. The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center reported the slide took him all the way back down the mountain where he was buried in an estimated 5 feet of snow.
GNFAC reports the avalanche danger is still "considerable" in the Bridger Range, and "moderate" in the Gallatin Range thanks to the new snow and wind that moved through Southwest Montana this week.
Meanwhile, here in Western Montana, less dramatic weather conditions this week have helped the snowpack to stabilize. Forecasters with the West Central Montana Avalanche Center warn there are still hazards on the steeper slopes:
"Skiers and riders could still trigger very large persistent slab avalanches on upper elevation northerly slopes. Isolated and stubborn wind slabs could also be found at upper elevations. Carefully assess the snowpack before committing to upper elevation slopes steeper than 35 degrees."
It's much the same in Northwest Montana, where the Flathead Avalanche Center reports that for both Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest, as well as the Swan Range, conditions have improved from the post-Christmas danger:
"You're unlikely to trigger an avalanche on most slopes. Deeply-buried weak layers are strengthening. You are unlikely to collapse these layers and trigger a slide on slopes where you find supportable ice lenses or melt-freeze crusts 4-20 inches below the snow surface. On very steep, northerly slopes where the near-surface snow is cohesionless, you can trigger loose dry snow avalanches. These can be dangerous if they carry you into or over a terrain trap."
The weather forecast looks much better than the last couple of weekends too, especially if you aren't going deep into the backcountry, and just want to get out for a short hike or drive. There's a mix of sun and cloud in the forecast for Saturday, with clouds on Sunday. Temperatures will be moderate with daytime highs in the 30s, and overnight lows in the 20s.