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Avalanche center shares safety tips for Montana skiers

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Posted at 9:17 AM, Nov 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-14 11:26:42-05

BOZEMAN - There’s nothing better than skiing on the fresh snow.

The powder and blue sky above can be one of the best parts of winter in Montana.

But as snow falls, the risk of avalanches increases.

“When we talk about safety equipment, this beacon is what we’re talking about,” says Doug Chabot, the director of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center.

James Marr, Reed Lando, and Katie Powers say they’re going to buy a beacon.

The group of friends has been skiing at lodges and resorts for years.

But now, they say they’re ready for more of a challenge.

“I think we’re all going to take our first run and get more into the backcountry,” says Lando.

But until then, they’re getting their reps in early at Bridger Bowl.

However, that doesn’t mean danger isn’t lurking.

“An area of concern right now in early season is Bridger Bowl,” says Chabot. “This is because the ski area has not done avalanche control.”

Chabot says avalanche control is when ski patrol goes out early in the morning and throws explosives on the slope.

“This releases the avalanches, and the idea is that releasing small avalanches prevents a big one from building up,” says Chabot.

He said the avalanche center is already getting reports of avalanches.

“Bridger Bowl is not a ski area right now,” said Chabot. “It’s pure backcountry and we've had reports of avalanches in the Bridger range before. “Friday a skier triggered a sizable avalanche on Mount Blackmore which is in the Hyalite range.”

That's why Chabot and his team spend time out in the field to identify the risk of avalanches occurring.

“We dig holes in the snow and what we’re doing is looking at the different layers in the snowpack,” says Chabot “Every time it snows it creates a new layer.”

The team then measures how well the layers of snow are sticking together.

“And when they don’t stick together and they’re not bonding well, that’s when you get avalanches,” says Chabot.

Chabot says it’s important to know what to do in case of an avalanche and the proper gear to carry with you. The first thing he encourages?

Don’t go alone.

“Your partner is the one who’s going to save you if you get completely buried,” says Chabot. “If you don’t have a partner and you’re completely buried, you’ll die.”

Chabot says to make swimming motions and try to make an air pocket around your mouth if you find yourself submerged in snow.

If you’re completely buried and you can’t stick a hand out of the snow, that’s when a beacon comes in handy.

“With the beacon, you’re transmitting a pulse and your partner turns theirs on to receive it,” says Chabot. “They can listen and the closer they get to you the louder it becomes.”

He says you have about an 80% of making it out alive if your partner finds you in 10 minutes.

This is why it’s important to also carry a shovel and a probe pole.

“You've got to practice with your beacon, know how to put your shovel together, know how to use your probe, and not freak out,” says Chabot.

Marr, Lando, and Powers say this is why they recently decided to take an avalanche safety class.

“We want to do this backcountry and get away from the resorts but it’s way more dangerous,” says Marr.

For more information on avalanche safety and education, you can visit the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center’s website.