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Local avalanche center reviews stats from low-snow season

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We just ended our 32nd year of operation. It was a low snow year with snowpack totals 70-80 percent of normal. The first snow fell on Oct. 11 and our first recorded avalanche was on Nov. 7 when a skier was caught in a loose snow slide in the Bridger Range. During the season we issued 12 early season bulletins before the start of our daily forecasts on Dec. 12. We ended with our 122nd and last forecast on April 10.

The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center team of four full-time avalanche specialists remained the same, with me, Alex Marienthal, Dave Zinn and Ian Hoyer getting in the field, writing forecasts and teaching. This season Hannah Marshall was our intern and she was able to get out with us on many days.

We spent most of the year patiently waiting for the monster snowstorm that never came. Weeks without snow created faceted, weak snow at the surface that would get buried an inch or 2 at a time. As forecasters, we were challenged to not sound like a broken record in our forecasts and videos: “Once it snows…” we would say over and over again. Even with low snow amounts, there were weak layers buried and dangerous, especially on the heels of a snowstorm. Tragically there were three avalanche accidents that killed four motorized users: three in Cooke City and one in Lionhead. Nationwide there have been 15 avalanche deaths (five ski/snowboard, six motorized, three snowshoers).

The Friends of the Avalanche Center and the GNFAC worked together to teach avalanche classes. We ran field classes and lectured both in person and online. In total we offered 80 classes to 3,349 people, including 403 kids under 18 and 330 snowmobilers.



  • Total number of people getting our daily forecast: 6,736
  • Number of field days: 117
    • Area with the most field days: Cooke City with 29
  • Snowmobile damage: 2 shocks, 1 tie rod, 1 handlebar, 2 a-arms and 1 actual arm (Dave’s dislocated shoulder).
  • Sled miles ridden in Cooke City and the rest of the forecast area: 600 and 1,200
  • Best quote of the season: “I’m pretty sure it will work fine,” my partner said as he showed me his cracked beacon that opened like a clamshell.
    • His plan: tape it back together and call it good.
    • Chances of doing his plan: 0 percent
  • Reported avalanche incidents (aka close-calls): 29
  • Total caught, partially buried and injured: 9, 1 and 2
  • The most avalanches recorded in a single day this season: 8 on Feb. 6
  • Number of videos and total views: 127 and 1,388,347 views
  • Total number of minutes/days watched on YouTube: 589,926 minutes/410 days
  • Total followers on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter: 19,700; 16,073; 7000; and 2,311.
    • Percentage increase from last year: 18 percent

The GNFAC relies on many individuals and community partnerships to operate. The Friends of the Avalanche Center along with a grant from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks help fund our education program and operations with 50 percent of our total budget. Later this spring, we will send out a detailed annual report outlining all our programs, budget and community support.

Enjoy the spring and summer. We will be back in October to get ready for a long overdue storm-packed winter!

Doug Chabot is the director of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center.

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