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On the Trail: Avalanche awareness



Avalanches always pose a risk to skiers, particularly backcountry skiers as the season transitions from winter to spring. PHOTO COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM


Spring is nearly here. But when sunny skies and warmer days call you to the backcountry, don’t forget to stay avalanche aware. Recently the Big Sky Community Organization caught up with Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center forecaster Alex Marienthal, who provided some basic tips to keep in mind as we transition from winter to spring skiing.

It Takes Two: Never go alone in the backcountry. No matter how experienced you are, if something goes awry, you still need someone to be able to get help.

Safety First: While your gear of course can’t prevent an avalanche, it’s essential to helping you find your buddy quickly, or vice versa. Respect yourself and your ski partner by being prepared and carrying a beacon with working batteries, an avalanche probe and a shovel. It’s also always a good idea to let someone else know where you’re going.

What’s Going On? Be aware that conditions can change rapidly throughout the day as it warms. What may start out as light, cold snow in the morning, can turn into heavy, wet and unstable snow that’s more likely to slide by early afternoon. 

When you get to your destination, look for signs of avalanche potential. Vegetation can hold clues. Are trees missing branches or flattened on the uphill side? Are there clear chutes that have been created over time by previous avalanche activity? What’s the slope angle? Most avalanches occur on slopes between 30 and 45 degrees. For reference, Liberty Bowl off the Tram at Big Sky Resort is approximately 32 degrees, while the steepest pitch of the Big Couloir tops out at 50 degrees.

Education: Finally, educate yourself. Take an avalanche course, be it the first time, or as a refresher. Learn more about what to look for and how to dig a snow pit to gauge the stability of the snow you want to ski or board.

Remember, have fun and be safe.

Before you head out, check the GNFAC’s daily advisory at, where you can also find information about educational opportunities. The daily avalanche forecast will be posted at least through the first week of April, depending on conditions.

Sara Marino is the community development manager for the Big Sky Community Organization.

BSCO engages and leads people to recreational and enrichment opportunities through thoughtful development of partnerships, programs and places. Visit for more information about Big Sky’s parks, trails and recreation programs.

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