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Hard at work: Up close look at the daily routine of a Flathead Avalanche forecaster

Hard at work: Up close look at the daily routine of a Flathead Avalanche forecaster.png
Posted at 4:00 PM, Mar 18, 2021

Flathead Avalanche Center forecasters provide detailed information each morning regarding avalanche danger in the Flathead, Swan and Whitefish Mountain ranges.

This information is essential for backcountry thrill seekers heading into dangerous, remote areas.

MTN News meets a Flathead Avalanche Center Forecaster in the backountry who gives us an up-close look at their daily routine.

“Around here things are not super accessible and it’s not super easy to do a short field day so 12-14 hours day can be pretty regular for us," said Clancy Nelson, a Forecaster for Flathead Avalanche Center.

Long days are normal for Flathead Avalanche Center Forecaster Nelson and his coworkers each winter.

“This morning I got up at 3," said Nelson.

Nelson says the work begins way before they travel into the backcountry, analyzing data and observation notes before they publish an avalanche forecast each morning by 7 a.m.

“And then we will head out into the field and verify the forecast and see if we were right or wrong, get any new information and see how we think things are going to change for the following day," said Nelson.

Forecasters come home in the evening, analyze new data collected and publish observation notes for both staff members and the general public.

“Get up the next morning and do it all over again," said Nelson.

Nelson says forecasters use a number of different snow-pack tests to determine avalanche danger.

He says forecasters use shovels, snow saws, thermometers and more to test snow layer strength and gather data on snow temperatures.

“We always try to take anecdotal information about how quickly the snow pack is warming at the surface," said Nelson.

Nelson says this data helps forecasters predict immediate avalanche danger, making sure the safety of each forecaster in the field is top priority,

“We’re out there so often that we got to be right more than 99% of the time to not have a near miss, so they do happen, and our goal is to just make a plan so well, that we’re minimizing our exposure," said Nelson.

Nelson says daily backcountry avalanche forecasts will continue through the beginning of April.

Daily backcountry avalanche forecasts and observation notes can be found on the avalanche center’s website.