Monday, January 09, 2006

Avalanche wake up

The "before"
The "after" a slide below us

Really fun turns in Deadman bowls
We had a gentle, if lucky wakeup call while in the backcountry on Sunday.
We triggered a small slab avalanche below us as we climbed out from the bottom of the big Deadman telemark slopes in the Little Belt Mountains.
We had just finished our sixth run, this time going to the bottom of the slopes in an area where they are at 35-40 percent angles, perfect for sliding.
The snow ran to the bottom about 150 feet below us in a 100 by 60 foot slab two-feet deep, piling in a heap at the bottom in front of the trees.
It was enough to give us pause as we carefully turned around and headed back to more a more stable base.
Our biggest relief was that the snow had slid beneath us rather than above and right down on us.
The snow had seemed especially stable, about six-inches to a foot on top of a hard base.
What we hadn’t reckoned with was that hard base had been wind-glazed in the slide area and wasn’t supporting the new and wind-packed snow, making it unstable and potentially dangerous.
As a rule I check the snow conditions carefully before going out on a slope.
It has been instructive to follow the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center daily e-mails on backcountry travel in that forest. Many of the storms that pound the Bridgers pass on to the Little Belts. I extrapolate from these messages while learning about what to look for.
You can subscribe at: or listen to the reports at:
I find it very useful to check the Canadian Avalanche Association interactive map in the Waterton Park region to help me make decisions about Glacier area travel:,4,3,Documents
I also check the Glacier Country Avalanche Center for news in that area as well:
All these sites describe what it takes to travel safely on backcountry slopes.
In the last week two Cooke City snowmobilers were buried and killed.
With so much information out there it would be a shame to do something stupid or risky on the backcountry slopes.
Otherwise, it had been a day of good turns in what seemed like great snow that felt like butter as it yielded to our metal-edge skis.
The 7-mile Deadman Trail, found on the east side of Kings Hill Pass near Showdown Ski Area, is in great shape and was being used by at least three parties, including our party of eight on Sunday.
Unfortunately, snowmobilers had also gotten there before us and chewed up the trail above the bowls, where they shouldn’t be.
I can’t complain about the signage. The Forest Service has done a great job putting up signs warning snowmobilers to keep off the Deadman cross country ski trail. The agency has done a great job, but snowmobilers continue to churn up this backcountry area.
We were also charmed by a mouse that scampered out across the snow to visit us above the Deadman bowls before diving into the snow and out of sight.

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