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Salute to Service: Flathead avalanche forecaster talks dangers of job

Posted at 4:09 PM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 18:09:35-04

The job of an avalanche professional is more than just a daily forecast, Flathead Avalanche forecaster Clancy Nelson talks about the dangers of his job and the mission to help save lives.

“Every time that there’s an accident or a near miss we all feel like the other team scored a point and that’s not the game that we’re playing,” said Nelson.

Flathead Avalanche Center consist of 4 full time forecasters, 1 part time observer and more than 20 volunteers.

“And we’re always in touch seven days a week with what’s going on,” said Nelson.

Forecasters cover three major back-country areas, in the Flathead, Swan and Whitefish mountain ranges.

Flathead Avalanche Forecaster Clancy Nelson says his coworkers come up with a detailed plan each morning to cover a wide back-country area.

“We don’t just go out and randomly look at things when we’re out in the field, what we’re looking for is going to depend on what the avalanche problems are today and what we think might be changing tomorrow,” said Nelson.

Nelson says the threat of an avalanche is always on a forecasters mind, having triggered one once himself.

“My personal experience was more of a slow-motion slide and I had a long time to be kind of mad at myself that I put myself in the situation that I was in,” said Nelson.

After an avalanche accident is reported in the back-country, forecasters travel to that area to investigate, sometimes after a fatality.

“We’re not trying to make any judgments or anything, we’re just trying to figure out objectively what happened so that everybody can learn from that.” said Nelson.