Avalanche Forecast published on September 29, 2019 @ 6:52 am
Issued by Zach Guy - Flathead Avalanche Center

Whitefish Range
Swan Range
Flathead Range and Glacier National Park

How to read the forecast

If there's enough snow to ride, there's a enough snow to slide.  Avalanche hazards so far this season are generally small and isolated to high elevation, wind loaded slopes.    Avalanches this time of year can produce harsh consequences if they drag you over rocks, cliffs, or stumps.  Pay attention to new snow and windloading amounts if you are traveling on snow covered terrain.  

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Above 6500 ft.

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5000-6500 ft.

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3500-5000 ft.
Avalanche Problem 1: Wind Slab
  • Type ?
  • Aspect/Elevation ?
  • Size ?
    Very Large

Be wary of reactive slab avalanches on leeward, alpine terrain features in the wake of fall snow storms.  Unstable snow is most likely to be found in wind loaded terrain -  in high elevation gullies or just below alpine ridgelines.  These are the terrain features that collect more snow during early season storms.  Simply avoiding fresh snow drifts and pillows of wind loaded snow on steep terrain is the safest tactic this time of year.  Cracks shooting through the snow are a clear sign of instability.  Within our forecast area, modest coverage and storm totals to date mean that wind slabs are generally small and isolated.  

Forecast discussion

This avalanche fatality, which occurred in early October in Montana a couple of years ago, is a sobering reminder that avalanche accidents can happen in the fall.  If you are traveling in the high country, whether it is hunting, skiing, hiking, or climbing, bring the appropriate avalanche rescue gear and stay tuned into avalanche conditions. The Catch-22 of fall skiing and riding: the most dangerous ingredients for an early season avalanche (slab of cohesive snow over a continuous, older snow layer) often form in the terrain that offers the deepest snow that keeps you off of the rocks.  Gullies and windloaded slopes are the first terrain features to develop a layered snowpack, which might harbor crusts or faceted snow from previous storms.  Loose snow avalanches can also be a concern this time of year.   Assess the snowpack before traveling on a snow covered slope on steep terrain. Snow that accumulates on bare ground or is well anchored by brush or talus is not a concern. If the snow surface is smooth and planar, treat it with suspicion. Windy areas are quicker to develop uniform snow coverage that can serve as a bed surface below slab avalanches. Remember that there is still plenty of winter to come if you have uncertainty about conditions.  Early season avalanches often result in season ending injuries as they drag you over rocks and shallow snow coverage.   The FAC will monitor conditions through the fall and post updates as conditions warrant.


Now is the time to get your gear dialed and brush up on your avalanche knowledge.   The 2019 Northern Rockies Snow and Avalanche Workshop has a great lineup of presentations, vendor booths, raffles, and an all-around good time.  The event is November 16th, 2019...all the details are here.   Registration is open! Stay tuned for our upcoming avalanche class schedule later this fall.  


This forecast applies only to backcountry areas outside established ski area boundaries. The forecast describes general avalanche conditions and local variations always occur. This forecast expires at midnight on the posted day unless otherwise noted. The information in this forecast is provided by the USDA Forest Service who is solely responsible for its content.

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