HELENA — Avalanche activity was in full swing over the weekend, not only in Montana's mountains -- but across much of the Rockies.
The mountains offer plenty of opportunity for fun, but also deadly danger this time of year. The snow was sliding over the weekend, including near Cook City, where a snowmobiler was caught in a large, hard slab avalanche. Luckily, he was unharmed.
But that was not the case in the backcountry near Park City, Utah where a snowboarder triggered a slide that caught, buried and killed him. Meanwhile, at Steamboat Resort in Colorado, an avalanche that occurred in bounds within the ski area caught eight people, all survived.
A recent storm cycle with wind and snow lead to the increase in avalanche activity but besides the latest round of falling snow, something lurks underneath.
Early season snow from September, October and November has created a weak layer closer to the surface. The weak layer without much friction has and will continue to release snow that builds over this surface.
A central theme from this weekend and moving forward is there is a complex snowpack with the potential for large, dangerous avalanches breaking near the ground. From the Whitefish Range to the Bitterroot, across Big Sky and Yellowstone to the Beartooth Mountains, warning signs such as cracking and collapsing of snow have been observed.
One of the most dangerous parts of backcountry avalanches is the slopes of 30-to-45 degrees that look the best for riding are the slopes that are most likely to slide. Make sure to dig a snow pit and perform stability tests and always be beeping and have a partner.