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Some consider Montana backcountry skiing risky in subzero temperatures

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Posted at 10:36 AM, Dec 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-22 12:36:33-05

BOZEMAN - Backcountry skiing is very popular in Montana, but with the subzero temperatures, search and rescue officials are recommending taking a slight break.

But Roundhouse manager Ryan Merkel thinks otherwise.

“I think today it would be a phenomenal day to get outside. The air is cool, it's cold, it's crisp, clear. The snow is phenomenal,” said Merkel.

Merkel believes this week's weather is great for skiing and a reason people come to Montana but is still aware of the risks.

“Definitely want to cover all exposed skin," said Merkel. "I think layering is very important; making sure you're not over-exerting in sweating.”

Search and Rescue Commander Scott Secor recommends taking some time off from backcountry skiing for the next couple of days because of the dangers you may face.
“We have some of the coldest temperatures that we have experienced in a long time," said Secor. "We've got considerable avalanche danger, and it's the shortest day of the year. So I would say today and tomorrow are probably the two most dangerous times that a person could venture out into the backcountry.”

Decor says the risk of hypothermia and frostbite is high. He says if you get stuck somewhere, hypothermia can set in as quickly as 14 minutes. But he has recommendations to increase safety if you do decide to go out.

“Go out with multiple partners, wear layers so you know, not just one or two but multiple layers because you're gonna get cold today. You know, warm gloves, food, and water that kind of thing,” says Secor.

Although these conditions are bad, Secor says search and rescue is always here to help.

“Our team is ready to go 24/7 regardless of the conditions, we just have to be more cognizant of the danger," said Secor. "So today we are also concerned with the avalanche conditions and the temperatures."

Merkel knows the days are short, so he emphasizes the importance of keeping track of time while skiing.

“Not only is it a time of getting out into the backcountry, you also need to judge that time coming back to your vehicle or back to your house," said Merkel. "So you really need to pay attention to the time that you're outside. The exposure that you have.”