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Weak base + new snow = avalanches

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A backcountry avalanche warning was issued on Dec. 30. at 5 p.m., for the southern Gallatin and southern Madison Ranges, for the Lionhead area near West Yellowstone and the mountains around Cooke City.

Backcountry skiers in the southern Madison Range today near Quake Lake reported extensive whoomping and cracking, and remotely triggered a small slide on relatively low angle terrain (pictured above). These are signs of severe instability, and the avalanche danger rating on all slopes is high.

Heavy snowfall and high winds have caused the unstable conditions, wrote Mark Staples, a forecaster with the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center. In many places, this new snow load has fallen on a very weak, sugary base.

“Areas of unstable snow exist. Natural and human triggered avalanches are likely. Avalanche terrain including avalanche runout zones should be avoided,” Staples wrote in the warning.

“The combination of new snow and very strong winds is always a good one to create avalanches. This combination is worse because most areas between Bozeman, Big Sky and West Yellowstone have a very weak snowpack,” Staples said.

Snowmobilers near Cabin Creek also observed several natural avalanches sliding on buried surface hoar.

With new snow, strong winds and more snow falling, Staples said he expects more avalanches. E.S.

For additional and updated information, check

For a story on decision-making in the backcountry, check out Scotty Savage’s current piece from the Big Sky Weekly:

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