It’s never too early to start thinking about snow safety. This photo from 2017  shows Erik Knoff digging a snow pit in the Cooke City area in November. They may not be digging pits yet, but the GNFAC team is out in the field setting up stations and at their computers setting up avalanche safety classes.

Snow safety, no matter the season

Avalanche experts gear up for another winter in the backcountry

The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center crew spends the month of October preparing for winter, scheduling avalanche safety classes and setting up the weather stations they use to study the snowpack. Here’s their recently-issued early season advisory.

If you venture to the mountains this weekend, whether hunting for turns or for animals, pay attention to the possibility of avalanches. Slopes that hold the most snow and the best riding conditions are the most likely place to trigger an avalanche. A small slide this time of year can cause season ending injuries if it carries you into the many exposed rocks. Avalanches have caught and injured skiers, hunters, and climbers during the early-season. Travel and prepare for avalanches like you would in the middle of winter.

•    Equip yourself with all the tools you normally travel with mid-winter: beacon, shovel and probe at a minimum. Helmets are especially helpful with rocky runout zones and thin coverage.

•    Travel one at a time in avalanche terrain.

•    Small avalanches can be season-ending affairs at best and deadly at their worst. Be careful of getting swept into rocks or buried deeply in gullies or carried off cliffs. All of these have occurred early season in Montana.

•    Avoid steep slopes with thick drifts of snow. These slopes are the most inviting because they have full coverage for skiing, but they are also the likeliest area to trigger a slide.

•    Cracking and collapsing of the snow is bulls-eye information that the snow is unstable.

There are two things you can do right now to prepare yourself for successful backcountry travel. First,  visit to read an accident report from October 2012 in the northern Bridger Range. It’s chock full of useful lessons. Second, plan to attend one of our avalanche education courses listed at 

If you get outside send us an observation via our website, email, phone 587-6984, or post on Instagram via #gnfacobs. 



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