Winter is not going down without a fight, but we have concluded our 30th season of daily avalanche forecasts. A 10” early snowstorm prompted our first bulletin of the year on September 26. Snow continued, folks flocked to the mountains and we issued 17 bulletins before our daily advisories started on November 30. By April 5th we had issued 128 daily advisories including 2 days of avalanche warnings, and will continue posting weather and snowpack updates twice a week through April. This was a good winter on many fronts: no avalanche fatalities and plenty of snowfall.
We recognize that backcountry skiing can be daunting to approach. That’s why Ben Goertzen and the Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center have teamed up to help breakdown some of the most prominent barriers of entry to backcountry skiing through this campaign. One lucky winner will be given a complete backcountry skiing kit, a spot in an avalanche awareness course, and featured in a three part video series that ends with an excursion into the backcountry with professional skier and filmmaker, Ben Goertzen.
Early season snowfall favored the mountains around Bozeman and Big Sky. For much of November, Brackett Creek Snotel site in the Bridger Range was at a record high for total SWE (snow water equivalent). By the end of November, Brackett Creek was recording 7.7” of SWE totaling 29” of snow.
Thanks for a wonderful winter. We concluded our 29th season after 129 daily avalanche forecasts between November 30th and April 7th. Additionally, we issued 14 preseason information bulletins and have 7 post season bulletins scheduled.
The forecast area of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC) includes Cooke City, a snowmobiler Mecca. The terrain is big, open, accessible, within view of Yellowstone National Park and deadly. Cooke City’s first snowmobile avalanche fatality occurred in 1992 and since then there have been 19 snowmobiler fatalities making it the deadliest real estate in USFS land for motorized recreationists.
Saddle Peak sits south of Bridger Bowl as a pair of equally high points on the ridgeline. The familiar eastern slope rises 3,500 feet above the highway on the way to Bridger Bowl, and provides an iconic view to those at the ski area. The peak’s extraordinary gullies and faces are the siren’s song to the southwest Montana powder skier. Access to the summit is easy. Despite its attraction and ease of access, on any piece of the mountain, the consequences of an avalanche, wrong turn, or fall could be fatal.
On September 16th winter arrived with a foot of snow in the mountains. On the 17th a skier triggered the first avalanche of the season. On the 19th, after continued snowfall, Alex issued the first avalanche information bulletin, the earliest in 28 years of operation. This winter was the biggest snow year since 1996/97 in southwest Montana with snowpack depth averaging 120-160% of normal.
By Ron Simenhois, Doug Chabot, Karl Birkeland and Ethan Greene