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Avalanche experts: new snow creates unstable conditions

By Katherine Mozzone, KTVM Reporter, kmozzone@ktvm.com
Published On: Jan 11 2013 11:16:14 AM MST
Updated On: Jan 11 2013 11:38:05 AM MST

Photo courtesy GNFAC

BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Avalanche experts say this might be a good weekend to take off, if you're a backcountry enthusiast.

Folks with the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center say, if we get the amount of snow that's forecasted, snowpack instability will rise and so will avalanche danger.

That's because recent cold, clear weather has formed a weak layer on or just below the snow's surface.  Experts say that weak layer could be a gamechanger for weeks or even a month to come.

"It's a persistent weak layer, meaning it's comprised of faceted crystals and those don't just go away in a day or two. They tend to persist in the snowpack for long periods of time and they can cause problems weeks, even months after they form so, we're definitely going to be paying attention to this," says Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center's Eric Knoff.

Knoff says it's a recipe for both natural and human caused avalanches.

"People have been getting used to skiing avalanche terrain lately because we've had really stable conditions so, now it's really important to change your mindset. We're going to be dealing with a completely different snowpack than what we've had and you really need to start playing by the rules and pay attention to being safe in the backcountry," explains Knoff.

Playing by the rules means having all the proper rescue gear, including a shovel, probe and beacon with fresh batteries.  It also means heading out with a partner, going one at a time and watching your partner from a safe distance.