Early season avalanche

Even with minimal snowpack, avalanche danger exists for hunters and others venturing into the mountains at this time of year, according to the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center in Bozeman.

Snow and windy conditions have prompted the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center to warn hunters to beware of avalanches as they hike into the mountains for the last week of Montana’s big game season. The season closes Nov. 27.

“A hunter thinking about the elk he or she is pursuing needs to also think about the condition of the snow cover now, too,” said Doug Chabot of the avalanche center.

In the past few days, the Cooke City area has received more than 20 inches of new snow. Chabot said it doesn’t take much snow at high elevations to create a slide with significant force.

“This time of year the danger isn’t being buried, it is being raked over rocks or pushed off of cliffs,” he said.

Chabot advised hunters to plan their hunts to avoid avalanche terrain.

“Consider the altitude, and check past years’ avalanche reports,” he said. “Forecasts calling for snow and wind also indicate the potential for avalanches is increasing, especially in high-elevation gullies.”

If hunters choose to explore avalanche terrain, being equipped with an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe poles is a necessity. It is also a good idea to carry a portable radio to summon help.

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Chabot offered these other safety tips for hunters.

Any slope steeper than 30 degrees with snow on it has the potential to avalanche.

Wind-blown snow in gullies is the most likely to be dangerous to hunters this time of year. Wind tends to compact the snow into thick slabs that can easily break free. Be especially mindful of the deeper snowpack on the lee sides of gullies.

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Following a slide, contact all members of the hunting party to ensure no one was knocked over and hurt or carried over a cliff.

Travel with a partner and only expose one person at a time to the slope.

Remember that dangerous avalanches are possible even with early season snows.

Chabot asked hunters who have information on snowpack or who see signs of avalanches to report their observations to mtavalanche@gmail.com or one of the other Montana avalanche centers — the West Central Montana Avalanche Center of the Lolo National Forest and the Glacier Country Avalanche Center.