Oftentimes, we don’t often consider the danger of avalanche when we’re out in the mountains in wintertime. And, in many cases, people trigger an avalanche themselves, without knowing it; they don’t understand the potential hazards or environmental conditions that most often cause the avalanche. And there’s no running away from an avalanche; an avalanche can travel down a mountainside at one-hundred and twenty miles per hour, engulfing everything in snow and the debris that gets uprooted by that snow. That’s why the number one most important component to a person’s safety kit in the mountains in winter is an avalanche receiver, transmitter beacon, and a shovel (yes, the shovel to dig out a buried comrade); but, the first and most important component to staying safe in the mountains in winter is the knowledge and understanding of avalanche.
Contributing Factors to Avalanche:
The terrain is the biggest factor for a potential avalanche. The slope angle on the mountain on which you are skiing, snowboarding, hiking, etc., is the contributing factor. A slope angle that is between thirty and forty-five degrees is a slope that is primed for avalanche. A tool called a clinometer, which can be found on a compass or purchased separately as a tool for backcountry safety, can be useful in determining the angle of the slope. Also, southern facing slopes are more likely to be stable, because of the amount of sunlight it receives throughout the day, melting some of the snow and then again re-freezing and condensing it at night.
Weather plays a major contributing factor to avalanche. Precipitation is a likely cause of avalanche. After a rain or snowstorm, snowpack is less stable. Also, warm nights and warmer than average temperatures during the day can make things less stable.
While the winter has not yet arrived in the Bitterroot Valley, the months of mountain snow are not far away. We hope you stay safe in all seasons in the Bitterroot Valley, and that you also enjoy the incredible scenery and the numerous outdoor opportunities offered.