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Knowledge is power in the backcountry

by Daily Inter Lake
| February 11, 2021 12:00 AM

It’s been a devastating week in the U.S. backcountry with avalanches claiming the lives of 15 people, the most in a seven-day stretch since 1910. So far this year, 21 people have died in avalanches in the U.S. — and it’s only February.

Sadly, among those killed was a local man snowmobiling with friends last weekend on terrain in Swan Range east of Kalispell.

These tragedies are a jarring and somber reminder for backcountry enthusiasts about the importance of adhering to avalanche safety protocol, and heeding the warnings of avalanche experts.

For the last week, avalanche forecasters have warned about an extraordinarily dangerous snowpack looming in the mountains across the West. In Northwest Montana, even mid-elevation slopes were easily succumbing to the weight of a snowmachine or skier, with other slides on steeper terrain carrying enough power to destroy a house. In other words, simply unsurvivable.

In the Flathead, we are fortunate to have access to daily advisories from experts at the Flathead Avalanche Center. Every day, forecasters at the Center are in the field gathering data and recording observations from the Whitefish, Swan and Flathead ranges. These easily digestible reports are posted online at 7 a.m., and pushed out across their social media reach.

Backcountry skiers and snowmobilers should make a habit out of checking these reports every morning. Knowing the dynamics of the snowpack and the best terrain choices for the day could be the difference between a tragic outing or high-fives at the trailhead.

It’s also imperative that adequate funding continue for the Flathead Avalanche Center. It wasn’t long ago that advisories were only issued on weekends. With the recent explosion in popularity of backcountry skiing and snowmobiling, part-time reporting simply wouldn’t cut it.

We’re thankful that the Flathead National Forest continues to support full-time staffing at the Center, and we encourage backcountry users to contribute to Friends of the Flathead Avalanche Center, the nonprofit arm of the organization. Learn more and get the daily advisory at www.flatheadavalanche.org.

Let’s play it safe out there this winter and live to ride another day.