The second weekend in December showed great turnout for the open resorts in Southwest Montana, Big Sky Resort Discovery and Lost Trail.

With snow throughout the weekend, Big Sky Resort now has 412 open acres and four open lifts, including Swift Current and the Triple, accessing skiing in the Bowl. Skiers reported untouched snow in the glades off of Ramcharger. The snow report at 5 a.m. this morning reported 4 -5 inches of new snow in the past 24 hours. All lodging and hotels will open at Big Sky on Thursday, Dec. 8. Educators ski free on Dec. 9 – 11. bigskyresort.com

Discovery Mountain, in Phillipsburg, Mont., re-opened on Dec. 3-4 with similar conditions and open terrain as Thanksgiving Weekend. The Rumsey double was spinning with a few trails on that part of the mountain open. The Easy chair and Totemoff Carpet were also running. Snow conditions are average for this time of year but new snow is in the forecast for the next four days. Day tickets are only $18. All programs and food facilities are open. Discovery will remain open through Sunday Dec. 27th and then close until the following weekend. skidiscovery.com

Three out of five chairs are open at Lost Trail Powder Montain, which sits atop the Continental Divide on Highway 93 where Montana and Idaho meet. There is two new inches of powder, and it is currently snowing. Ski lifts at Lost Trail run Thursday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The resort will be open every day during the holidays from Dec. 15 – Jan. 2. Single day tickets at Lost Trail are only $36. losttrail.com

Backcountry Conditions from the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center

Cold-clear conditions exist over Southwest Montana. Currently mountain temperatures are ranging from 5-15 below zero and winds are light out of NNW at 5-15 mph. Today, temperatures will hike into the low teens and winds will continue to blow out of the NNW at 5-15 mph. Dry and warmer conditions will remain through Tuesday.

The northern Gallatin Range and mountains around Cooke City:

The northern Gallatin Range has received more snow over the past few days than any other range in our forecast area. A total of .6 inches of has fallen since Friday. This new load will be adding stress to a layer of weak faceted crystals near the ground. Although recent reports have suggested that the pack in the northern Gallatin Range is slowly gaining strength, it is still set up to produce avalanches. Avoiding steep slopes, specifically slopes that have been wind loaded, will be the best way to avoid triggering a slide.

The mountains around Cooke City have a similar structure to the northern Gallatin Range. Snow depths of 3-4 feet can be found on most slopes above 8,000 ft. Weak facets near the ground are located beneath a supportable 2-3 foot slab. Multiple human triggered avalanches in the mountains around Cooke City have shown that this snowpack structure is capable of producing avalanches.

The Bridger, southern Gallatin and entire Madison Ranges:

Snowpacks of the Bridger, Gallatin and Madison Ranges are variable. What was a thin but strong snowpack in the Lionhead area near West Yellowstonea little more than a week ago is reduced to a collection of non-cohesive faceted crystals. Unfortunately, this seems to be the direction the snowpack is heading.

On Saturday around Bridger Bowl was a similar set up. The Taylor Fork area in the southern Madison Range was a deeper snowpack, but one that still showed signs of weakness (snowpit). Without a significant load, the snowpack in these ranges continues to grow weaker, but not necessarily more unstable. This will all change when we get more snow.

For now, it’s important to remember that thin snowpacks are often dangerous snowpacks. Not only are avalanches a legitimate concern, but buried objects such as rocks and stumps can also pose a serious hazard. mtavalanche.com