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How to stay safe when recreating in Flathead County’s backcountry

Flathead Avalanche Safety
Posted at 8:48 AM, Dec 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-05 10:48:04-05

KALISPELL - As winter begins to set in backcountry skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing are some of the fun winter activities that come with it. However, when participating in these fun winter activities there comes the risk of stumbling into avalanche territory.

People who have plans to enjoy the great outdoors should brush up on safety reminders before venturing out into the backcountry.

“Avalanche education seems to be working. Numbers of people getting killed in avalanches was spiking for a number of years. Even though there’s a lot more use these days avalanche fatalities have actually leveled off,” said Flathead Avalanche Center lead forecaster Mark Dundas.

One of the key pieces of equipment that is crucial to helping with that leveling off is a transceiver.

“The transceiver transmits but it also receives. When we go out in the field, we’re on transmit, if we get buried, we’re sending out a signal, the other people in the party turn their beacons to receive and they can follow that signal into us,” Dundas explained.

Not only are transceivers a crucial tool to have, but always keeping your head on a swivel can make all the difference.

“So, I think the big thing is just to slow down, be aware of your surroundings and just start that way with everything,” noted Mountain Outfitter shop technician Mike Miller. “Don’t start too fast, just slow down, get your equipment ready, take your classes and kind of you know go from there.”

After over 25 years of backcountry work and teaching avalanche classes, Miller knows the words to live by for anyone in potential avalanche territory.

“We would say, ‘what’s above me, what’s below me, what’s around me, what are the consequences.’ And so, you remind yourself of that throughout the day,” Miller said. “It’s a really good way to kind of catch yourself possibly making a mistake or you know it’s a way to stay out of trouble."

As snow continues to pile up in the mountains it’s always important to take any precautions available and be better safe than sorry.