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  #11  
Old 02-01-2010, 12:04 PM
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A cold winter storm system has impacted southwest Montana depositing 8-10 inches of new snow in the Bridger Range with 5-7 inches falling throughout the rest of the advisory area. Winds have picked up overnight and have been constant along the ridgetops at 20-30 mph out of the W-NW. Snow and winds will decrease throughout the day and temperatures will be on the cooler side with highs in the twenties and lows in the single digits.

Snowpack and Avalanche Discussion:


The Madison Range, southern Gallatin Range and the Lionhead area near West Yellowstone:

Soft and favorable riding conditions continue to lure skiers and snowmobilers into the backcountry like moths to a flame. Unfortunately, a cohesive slab 1-3 feet thick sitting over weak faceted snow near the ground along with an active layer of surface hoar two feet below the surface has created dangerous avalanche conditions. What makes these conditions so dangerous is the slab is now strong enough to support a skier or snowmobiler in most areas creating a false sense of stability. These unstable and unpredictable conditions have been the culprit of many human triggered avalanches over the past week with latest being a snowmobiler triggered avalanche in the Lionhead area on Saturday.

Yesterday, Doug, Allan and I toured around the Hebgen Lake area and found plenty of weak and unstable snow. We dug a snowpit on an east facing slope at 9,000 ft and found weak sugary facets near the ground and a thin layer of surface hoar roughly two feet below the surface. During an ECT stability test we got both weak layers to fail and propagate simultaneously, a very bad sign. We also conducted a rutschblock test that failed on the surface hoar layer and produced a clean shear with a very low score (see video). These obvious signs of instability prompted us to ski the most conservative lines possible until we were clear from avalanche terrain. With 5-7 inches of new snow in the past 24 hours we can expect this weak and fragile snowpack to be pushed closer to the brink.

Today, a CONSIDERABLE avalanche danger exists on all wind loaded slopes and slopes steeper than 35 degrees. On slopes that have not received wind loading and are less than 35 degrees the avalanche danger is rated MODERATE.

The Bridger and northern Gallatin Ranges, mountains around Cooke City and the Washburn Range:

Stability has improved in the mountains near Bozeman and Cooke City, and many skiers and snowmobilers have found reasonably stable slopes and good riding conditions. With 8-10 inches of new snow in the Bridgers and 5-7 inches the northern Gallatin Range and mountains around Cooke City riding conditions will be excellent, but the possibility of triggering an avalanche remains very real. With winds blowing out of the W-NW at 25 mph along the ridgetops, areas of wind drifted snow will form quickly and will easily fail under the weight of a skier or rider. Although these pockets of instability may not be enormous they have the ability to knock you off your feet and drag you into rocks or trees. Another area of concern is a layer of buried facets that exists 2-3 ft below the snow surface. This layer was responsible for a human triggered avalanche this past Thursday in the northern Bridgers. Although this layer may not be as active, the avalanches that do fail on this layer will be large and destructive.

Today, a CONSIDERABLE avalanche danger exists on all wind loaded slopes while a MODERATE avalanche danger exists on all non wind loaded slopes.

Doug will issue the next advisory tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m. If you get out in the backcountry let us know what you find. You can reach us at 587-6984 or email us at mtavalanche@gmail.com.
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  #12  
Old 02-02-2010, 12:02 PM
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Good Morning. This is Doug Chabot with the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Advisory issued on Tuesday, February 2, at 7:30 a.m. Montana Ale Works, in cooperation with the Friends of the Avalanche Center, sponsor today's advisory. This advisory does not apply to operating ski areas.

Mountain Weather:


Only remnant flurries fell after yesterday's early morning storm. Temperatures reached the 20s and ridgetop winds blew 15-20 mph from the west-southwest. Today will be mostly cloudy with mountain temperatures again reaching the mid 20s before dropping to the low teens tonight. Ridgetop winds will continue to be west-southwest at 15-20 mph. A few bands of moisture may drop a dusting of snow, but it won't be enough to really care about.

Snowpack and Avalanche Discussion:


The Madison Range, southern Gallatin Range and the Lionhead area near West Yellowstone:

It's always better to be the hunter than the hunted. On Monday Eric and I went hunting for instability and we found it. We skied and dug pits in the southern Madison Range near Hebgen Lake and got clean shears on a buried surface hoar layer two feet down (video). This layer is visible as a stripe in the snowpit wall. Our tests also fractured on the large sugary grains near the ground, so pick your poison. Both these layers were the reason we skied low angled terrain. A snowmobiler on Sunday triggered a slide on one of these layers only a couple miles to the south of us. Last Thursday a snowmobiler triggered a small slide in Carrot Basin a few miles to the north. This activity, plus our poor stability tests indicate a persistent problem.

The 5-7 inches of new snow that fell in the wee hours Monday morning improved the riding and skiing without spiking the avalanche danger. All the ski patrols in the Lone Mountain vicinity got easy ski cuts on wind-loaded slopes. In the last 24 hours winds have been light and the new snow seems to have bonded well to the old surface. Our main avalanche concern continues to be the buried faceted snow near the ground and/or the surface hoar which is found in the southern ranges. Given these conditions, the avalanche danger is rated CONSIDERABLE on all slopes steeper than 35 degrees. Less steep slopes will have a MODERATE danger.

Be aggressive in your search for instability. Don't become the hunted.

The Bridger and northern Gallatin Ranges, mountains around Cooke City and the Washburn Range:

In the Bridger Range 8-10 inches of denser, 7.5% snow skied well and stayed put. Other than easy ski cuts on some wind-loaded slopes near the ridgelines, the new snow did not avalanche yesterday. The snowpack in the northern mountains still has lingering instabilities on weak, faceted snow near the ground. A snowmobiler on Thursday triggered a slide north of Ross Pass on this layer, but overall these slopes are becoming harder to find. A skier touring far and wide in Hyalite on Sunday found these facets on a few slopes and was conscious of being "lulled by a supportable slab and enticing skiing conditions." Snow Rangers in Cooke City found 5-6 inches of light, dry snow yesterday. They dug a snowpit below Mount Abundance, very near a pit they dug on Jan 20. Besides a deeper snowpack, their stability tests showed good strengthening --easy fractures 12 days prior were not breaking. But let's not forget that faceted snow near the ground which formed at the beginning of December still avalanched as recently as five days ago. Strengthening is a slow, tedious process. For today, the avalanche danger is rated MODERATE on all slopes.

I will issue the next advisory tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m. If you get out in the backcountry let us know what you find. You can reach us at 587-6984 or email us at mtavalanche@gmail.com.
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  #13  
Old 02-08-2010, 11:39 AM
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Good Morning. This is Eric Knoff with the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Advisory issued on Monday, February 8, at 7:30 a.m. Montana Ale Works in cooperation with the Friends of the Avalanche Center, sponsor today's advisory. This advisory does not apply to operating ski areas.

Mountain Weather:

Clear and calm conditions with strong temperature inversions have settled over southwest Montana. Over the next 24 hours cold air trapped in the valleys will produce dense valley fog along with a few snow flurries. Spring like temperatures will be felt in the upper elevations with highs near freezing and lows in the teens. Valley temperatures will feel much more like winter with highs in the twenties and lows in the single digits. Winds will be calm today but will increase slightly out of the W-NW tonight and tomorrow.

Snowpack and Avalanche Discussion:

The southern Madison Range, southern Gallatin Range and the Lionhead area near West Yellowstone:

The snowpack and weather are forever intertwined and when weather changes it's inevitable that changes will occur within the snowpack. However, the snowpack is its own substance and can occasionally resist the constant changes that surround it. This resistance to change has defined this year's snowpack with weak facets near the ground making up the primary foundation for the past six weeks. These buried facets have slowly become less reactive over time, but their tendency to produce avalanches has stayed fairly constant. Another player in the game is a spotty layer of buried surface hoar lurking 1-2 ft below the surface. This weak and unpredictable layer formed nearly a month ago and is most prevalent on slopes protected from the sun and wind.

Yesterday, Doug and I along with our partners skied Bacon Rind in Yellowstone Park. We experienced a tremendous amount of collapsing in the fields leading up to the slopes with football sized areas collapsing under our feet. As we climbed higher in elevation travel became easier as the snowpack became deeper and more supportable. This was nice for us, but raised a major red flag. We stopped to dig a snowpit at 9,000 ft on an east facing slope and found a 2-3 foot slab sitting over 20 inches of large grained facets. Stability test indicated these facets are fully capable of failing and propagating, displaying the weak and unstable nature of the snowpack. Our next snowpit only a few hundred feet above the first revealed the same weak facts near the ground, but exposed an obvious layer of surface hoar 18 inches below the surface (photo). This surface hoar layer produced clean, high energy shears with light force (video) and even failed upon isolating during one stability test. Despite the fact skiing was far better on north facing slopes, we all skied the less powdery south facing slopes that offered a far safer decent route back to the car. Both of these persistent weak layers should be taken very seriously and treated with respect.

Today, choose wisely if you travel into avalanche terrain. What might seem like an amazing powder run may actually be a serious accident waiting to happen. Because human triggered avalanches are probable on slopes steeper than 35 degrees the avalanche danger is rated CONSIDERABLE. On slopes less than 35 degrees the avalanche danger is rated MODERATE.

Bridger, northern Madison, and northern Gallatin Ranges, mountains around Cooke City and the Washburn Range:

The mountains around Bozeman and Cooke City have a deeper and more consistent snowpack. Buried facets that produced widespread natural and human triggered avalanches only a few weeks ago have shown signs of strengthening and improvement. With the snowpack depth growing to 4-6 feet deep in many places it is becoming increasingly difficult to trigger an avalanche on this persistent weak layer. This has offered a sigh of relief as people venture further into avalanche terrain. However, this does not mean avalanches will not occur on these buried facets and if you do become the unlucky trigger you can expect the avalanche to pull out deep and wide.

A new factor that is coming into play is solar heating that is caused by the sun rising higher in the sky. This seasonal change can heat the snow surface quickly producing surface avalanches that can entrain a large amount of snow quickly. A perfect example of this was reported yesterday when an ice climber in Hyalite was nearly run over by a small but powerful slide that initiated in the gully far above him. As daytime temperatures continue to rise, surface snow avalanches will become more prevalent making travel in steep, rocky terrain exposed to the sun more unpredictable and dangerous. Obvious signs of solar heating are point releases off rocks or trees and pin wheels or roller balls that form as wet snow rolls down the hill.

Travel in avalanche terrain no matter what the danger requires careful and constant evaluation. Today, multiple factors make human triggered avalanches possible and the avalanche danger is rated MODERATE.

Doug will issue the next advisory tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m. If you get out in the backcountry let us know what you find. You can reach us at 587-6984 or email us at mtavalanche@gmail.com.
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  #14  
Old 02-17-2010, 11:21 AM
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Mountain Weather:

In the last 24 hours the northern mountains picked up 1-2 inches of snow with the southern regions getting only a trace to one inch. The Bridger Range got windy yesterday afternoon with steady ridge speeds of 35-40 mph. Currently they're at 25-30 mph while the rest of the forecast area is only getting light 10-15 mph breezes. Mountain temperatures are in the high teens to low 20s where they'll remain today. Under mostly cloudy skies, small weather disturbances will drop another 1-3 inches by tomorrow morning.

Snowpack and Avalanche Discussion:

The Bridger Range:

Yesterday morning at 11 a.m. a person triggered a large avalanche on Saddle Peak. Extreme luck was involved as no one was caught. A cornice the size of a VW van broke as a skier walked towards the edge of the ridge at the summit. The block slid downhill and triggered the avalanche. It broke 3-6 feet deep and went 1,000+ feet wide wiping out hundreds of ski tracks from Monday. A powder cloud was seen by most people at the ski area. Our Photos page of the website is filled with pictures which are more vivid than my words can describe.

The Bridger Range got a heavy snow load of 2 ½ feet of snow, or 3 inches of water weight, over the weekend. Strong winds created thick slabs adding further weight to the slope. And although skiers got lucky and didn't trigger it, the thousand pound cornice did. And the avalanche broke deep. It fractured on a layer of facets underneath the hard slab that we identified as a problem back on December 17th. Karl and I made a video that day which is well worth seeing again (video). After I turned off the camera I sarcastically said to him, "This is the video we're going to watch in Feb to explain why Saddle slid." And here we are.

The winds picked up yesterday afternoon and loaded slopes near the ridgeline even further. The rate of loading was fast enough that Mark and I opted to call off the search for possible missing skiers since a dozen of us were standing under the maw of another huge avalanche path. Also yesterday, snowmobilers saw a huge avalanche, likely from the weekend, in the Throne/Flat Iron area of the northern Bridger Range. It pulled out trees 20 inches in diameter and ran ¼ mile wide.

With continuing strong winds and plenty of snow available for transport, for today the avalanche danger is rated CONSIDERABLE on all wind loaded slopes. On slopes without a wind load, the danger is MODERATE, which means it's still possible to trigger avalanches.

Northern Madison and northern Gallatin Ranges, the mountains around Cooke City and the Washburn Range:

Shower Falls up Hyalite has gotten 5-6 inches of snow in the last two days, about double the amount in the northern Madison Range. Winds have been light and the ski patrols around Lone Peak are reporting soft slabs that are releasing on ski cuts and explosives. Natural avalanches were seen in Beehive Basin that likely released on Monday. Skiers triggered slides in there over the weekend while further south on Buck Ridge snowmobilers were able to do the same. Outside Cooke City on Sunday snowmobilers triggered slides on Crown Butte too. Scroll through our Photos page to see many pictures of natural and human triggered slides from the weekend.

Weak facets, recently buried by the new snow, is creating instability from Mt. Ellis, where skiers found it in multiple snowpits, to Moonlight Basin where the Ski Patrol was able to trigger slides on it. Some avalanches are also breaking deeper on facets near the ground. Regardless of the weak layer it's still possible to trigger slides today, especially on steep wind-loaded slopes that got drifted over the weekend. For today, the avalanche danger is rated CONSIDERABLE on all wind-loaded slopes steeper than 35 degrees and MODERATE on all other terrain.

The southern Madison, southern Gallatin Ranges and the Lionhead area near West Yellowstone:

Buried surface hoar hiding 1.5 to 2 feet under the surface is our primary avalanche concern in the southern mountains. Over the weekend a skier got large collapses and cracks on this layer and even triggered a wind-loaded slope at a ridge line near Hebgen Lake. A snowmobiler was also buried on Monday in the Lionhead area, although we don't have specifics on the slide other than he was dug out uninjured. Our secondary avalanche concern is large sugary facets at the ground which are breaking clean in our stability tests.

The snowpack is weakest in the mountains south of Big Sky to West Yellowstone. They only got 8-10 inches of snow since Friday, but it was enough to bump up the avalanche danger, especially where slopes got the extra burden of wind loading.

For today, the avalanche danger is rated:

CONSIDERABLE on all wind-loaded slopes;

CONSIDERABLE on all slopes steeper than 35 degrees;

MODERATE on slopes less than 35 degrees that were not affected by the wind.

Mark will issue the next advisory tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m. If you get out in the backcountry let us know what you find. You can reach us at 587-6984 or email us at mtavalanche@gmail.com.

SADDLE PEAK AVALANCHE

Take a hard look at the photos. If you skied off the summit on Monday and find that your tracks are now obliterated, I'm asking, "What did you do to arrive at the decision to ski that slope?" Now that it slid there's no real argument about whether it was stable or not. It wasn't. But hundreds thought it was good to go. Perhaps I would have been one of them. But I know I'd want to puke looking at those photos knowing how close I would have been to dying. Seeing other tracks in fresh powder is commonly mistaken as a sign of stability, but it's not. Folks think that slopes that get skied often are safer because the weak layer gets broken down and compacted by the tracks. But in this case the weak layer was impervious to tracks because it was preserved under a supportable hard slab. Supportable until yesterday.

Three inches of snow water equivalency fell in under 48 hours. Strong winds created drifts adding even more weight. And facets hibernating deep in the pack finally couldn't hold up any more snow. That's what happened.

We are extremely lucky. I could just as easily be writing my condolences to 15 families this morning. Many people would have died if the slope slid the day before or a few hours later. Most days skiers are stacked on top of one another exposed to avalanches from above. Luckily it was triggered early in the day with few skiers around. Consider this avalanche the one and only free wakeup call we'll ever get. There's a lot to learn. The slope slid on a beautiful day with many tracks on it. It was undeniably unstable yet provides us with an opportunity to re evaluate how we ski, make decisions and travel in the sidecountry.
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Old 02-18-2010, 11:28 AM
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Mountain Weather:

Since yesterday morning 1-2 inches of snow fell throughout most of the advisory area. With cold air descending from the north, temperatures this morning were in the low teens to high single digits F. Winds decreased last night and were blowing 5-10 mph from the north this morning. Today will be cloudy and colder than recent days. High temperatures will reach the upper teens F and light northerly winds will blow 5-10 mph. Snowfall is likely today but only 1-2 inches will accumulate.

Snowpack and Avalanche Discussion:

The Bridger Range:

What happened: On Tuesday morning an massive avalanche occurred on Saddle Peak when a skier stepped on a cornice which broke, tumbled down the slope, and triggered the avalanche. Yesterday afternoon when Karl and I heard of clearing skies and good visibility on Saddle, we raced out of the office like CSI detectives on the lead of a hot tip. We found a crown face nearly 5ft tall and almost 1000ft wide. The avalanche ran about 2000ft vertical down one of the most popular and heavily skied slopes on Saddle Peak. We have numerous photos and several videos (video1, video2, video3) worth viewing. Avalanches breaking deep also occurred on Bridger Peak and several areas north of Bridger Bowl including the Flatirons area.

Why: Over the weekend, the Bridger Range received almost the same amount of precipitation that it typically receives in the entire month of February. While this was about 2.5 ft of snow, it was 3 inches of water weight. Over the area that slid on Saddle Peak, this heavy snow added up to roughly 4.5 million pounds which was placed on the snowpack in only a few days. This weight is equivalent to about six 747 jumbo jets. The trigger for this avalanche happened to be a tumbling cornice, but it didn't matter whether it was a cornice or a skier. The weight of the trigger was insignificant. What was important was finding the right place on the slope to initiate a fracture in the weak layer, and this spot was one of the several rock bands near the summit.

What now: Deep slab instabilities are difficult to predict. We know facets near the ground have been stressed and have produced avalanches. For now patience is the key and the snowpack needs more time to adjust to the weight of the weekend's heavy snow. Today, the avalanche danger is rated CONSIDERABLE on all wind loaded slopes. On slopes without a wind load, the danger is MODERATE, which means it's still possible to trigger avalanches.

Northern Madison and northern Gallatin Ranges, the mountains around Cooke City and the Washburn Range:

Avalanche activity has occurred throughout the advisory area. Near Big Sky, ski patrols have triggered some stiff wind slabs, skiers in Beehive Basin observed recent natural avalanches, backcountry skiers on Lone Mountain triggered a slide, and snowmobilers on Buck Ridge triggered a few slides as well. Near Cooke City human triggered avalanches occurred on Crown Butte and natural avalanches occurred on Miller Mountain. Skiers on Mt Ellis found instabilities in multiple snowpits about 10 inches deep and opted for low angle slopes. On many slopes recent snow rests on a layer of near surface facets that was buried on February 10. A regular observer near Cooke City has found this layer mostly on slopes with a southerly aspect. Just to keep things interesting, buried surface hoar exists on a few slopes as Eric found on Buck Ridge.

For today, the avalanche danger is rated CONSIDERABLE on all wind-loaded slopes steeper than 35 degrees and MODERATE on all other terrain.

The southern Madison, southern Gallatin Ranges and the Lionhead area near West Yellowstone:

In the southern mountains the primary avalanche concern is a layer surface hoar buried 1.5 to 2 ft deep. Even though this layer does not exists on all slopes, it has been found on enough slopes to cause concern, and it continues to show signs of instability. On Monday a snowmobiler was buried near Lionhead, and a natural avalanche on Mt Two Top (just outside the advisory area) was observed by a Gallatin Snow Ranger. Facets near the ground are the secondary avalanche concern. This layer has been experiencing a game of tug-of-war. As it adjusts to the weight of snow from old storms, it receives more stress with each new storm. An avalanche breaking on the surface hoar layer could easily add the extra stress necessary for the avalanche to step down and break near the ground.

For today, the avalanche danger is rated:

CONSIDERABLE on all wind-loaded slopes;

CONSIDERABLE on all slopes steeper than 35 degrees;

MODERATE on slopes less than 35 degrees that were not affected by the wind.
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Old 02-19-2010, 11:19 AM
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Mountain Weather:

Yesterday 1 inch of snow fell in the Bridger, northern Madison, and northern Gallatin Ranges while other areas remained dry. Today will be similar to yesterday with 1-2 inches of snow expected mostly in the northern half of the advisory area. The southern half should get at least a dusting of snow. This morning temperatures were in the single digits F with northerly winds blowing 5-10 mph. Highs today will reach the mid to high teens F as cold air continues descend from the north, and winds will stay light blowing 5-10 mph.

Snowpack and Avalanche Discussion:

The Bridger Range:

Last weekend's storm dropped 3 inches of snow water equivalent in the Bridger Range. Many avalanches slid over the weekend and early part of this week. Many occurred within the storm snow; however, several notable avalanches broke on much deeper layers. These larger avalanches included one on Saddle Peak, several on Bridger Peak, one just north of Bridger Bowl, and another in the Flatirons area north of Ross Peak. We have documented this activity on our photo and video pages. Weaknesses in the storm snow should have mostly healed, but deeper instabilities linger 3-5 ft deep. Each day facets near the ground adjust a bit more to recent loading, but it's hard to say how fast this occurs though probably slower than we would like. Patience is the key. Strong winds last blew on Tuesday, and previously wind loaded slopes with more stress will be the most sensitive. For today, previously wind loaded slopes steeper than 35 degrees have a CONSIDERABLE avalanche danger. All other slopes have a MODERATE avalanche danger.

Northern Madison and northern Gallatin Ranges, the mountains around Cooke City and the Washburn Range:

On Wednesday near Big Sky a group of skiers triggered an avalanche on Wilson Peak. It broke about 2ft deep, 400ft wide, and ran nearly 1800ft on a south facing 35 degree slope. They also observed cracking and collapsing on a nearby slope. Another group on a mountain next to Wilson Peak, also observed cracking and collapsing. On steeper slopes cracks were shooting as far as 30ft from them, and stability tests produced failures about a foot deep in the snowpack. A layer of near surface facets as well as surface hoar formed about a week and a half ago and is now buried 1-2 feet deep. Snowfall last weekend and strong winds mid week have stressed this layer producing avalanches and other obvious signs of instability. This layer has also been found near Cooke City mostly on southerly slopes. Facets near the ground also exist and should not be forgotten. For today, previously wind loaded slopes steeper than 35 degrees have a CONSIDERABLE avalanche danger. All other slopes have a MODERATE avalanche danger. Watch out because recent dustings of snow will make it hard to identify previously wind loaded slopes.

The southern Madison, southern Gallatin Ranges and the Lionhead area near West Yellowstone:

Yesterday Eric and I rode with Gallatin Snow Rangers in Teepee Basin in the southern Madison Range. Recent storms have not produced heavy snowfall in this area which has only received an inch or two with each storm. This minimal loading means minimal stress on the snowpack, and our stability tests took more force to produce failures than they have previously. It is getting harder to trigger an avalanche, and many riders have been testing big slopes. Unfortunately the structure of the snowpack does not inspire confidence. Facets near the ground remain weak and exist on all slopes. A layer of surface hoar 1.5-2 ft deep exists on some slopes and propagates very clean fractures in stability tests. Riders are testing many slopes but not all of them will do so safely as one rider found on Monday when he was buried up to his head near Lionhead. For today, slopes steeper than 35 degrees have a CONSIDERABLE avalanche danger. All other slopes have a MODERATE avalanche danger
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Old 01-12-2014, 05:14 PM
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What is the latest
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Old 01-18-2015, 10:06 AM
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How is the snow around Island Park. Looked like there was lots falling. Just was looking for an update. Thanks for all the replies!!
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