By Doug Chabot
All winter long at 4 a.m. Eric, Mark
or I are in the office, coffee in hand,
our minds slowly waking to put
together the morning’s avalanche
advisory. The meat of the advisory
is the snowpack discussion, which
we craft into a few paragraphs, and
concludes with the avalanche danger
rating. We determine the stability
by digging holes, isolating columns,
doing stability tests and taking notes
on everything we’re seeing. One of
us is out with a partner most days
of the week, but even so, we can’t
always get everywhere we need.
Our advisory area encompasses
6,000 square miles of terrain including
the Bridger Range, the Gallatin
and Madison Ranges from Bozeman
to Big Sky and West Yellowstone,
and also the Beartooths near Cooke
City. With an area this large it’s
impossible to see it all on a regular
basis, so we rely on the public observations
to help us formulate the
We are a small avalanche center and
do not have formal requirements for
skiers or snowmobilers to send us
observations. We listen to everyone,
filtering the information as it comes
into our email. If you get outside to
recreate, no matter your skill level,
you can be our eyes and ears. A few
simple observations are all we need.
The easiest way is to go to mtavalanche.
com and click on “Submit
an Observation” or email us directly
Working together, we can reduce
uncertainty with snowpack stability;
all it takes is answering a few
Weather observations: How much
new snow? Wind direction? Wind
speed estimate? Cloud cover?
Avalanche Observations: Did you
notice any recent avalanche activity?
Collapsing/cracking or other
signs of instability?
Snowpit Observations: If you dug
a snowpit, what was the weakest
layer? How far down was it? What
were stability test scores?
General Thoughts: Anything else
relevant regarding ski or snowmobile
Folks tend to think we need scientific
data, but this is not so. While a
snowpit is definitely helpful, pictures
are another valuable way to
convey a message. If you triggered an
avalanche and wrote us, maybe even
gave us a few pictures, we would
be indebted. And fear not, unlike
WikiLeaks, we respect people’s privacy
and will also keep the location of
their secret powder stashes secret.
Even a simple sentence can give
us great information. For example:
“Two inches of new snow, no instability,
great skiing, and no windloading”
says a lot, especially if we
haven’t been to that area in a while.
It takes the guesswork out for us,
and it gives us something concrete to
The next time you head out, drop
us a line, send us a picture and let
us know what you found. The
avalanche advisories will be better
because of it.