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Avalanche Safety

Winter is in full effect all across Montana! Over the next few months thousands of people will be heading into the mountains on their sleds to enjoy all the snow that Mother Nature has been giving us. However, before you or someone you know goes out to enjoy some back-country snowmobiling, it’s important to make sure you know the signs and are prepared in case of an avalanche.

Avalanche safety is a must! Over 90{07a2bfde8eb780d02c2eea01e5f3f65a578cfa3b9347804e36d0bcf063419749} of recreational avalanche fatalities are triggered by the people involved. In order to decrease the probabilities of becoming a statistic, make sure you have the proper gear, know the warning signs and you stay out of harms way.

Get the Gear! If you think you’ll have time to get help, think again. While almost 80{07a2bfde8eb780d02c2eea01e5f3f65a578cfa3b9347804e36d0bcf063419749} of buried victims will survive the first 10 minutes, the odds quickly drop in the following minutes. By 30 minutes, over 90{07a2bfde8eb780d02c2eea01e5f3f65a578cfa3b9347804e36d0bcf063419749} of buried victims have died. Essential equipment to have when heading out on your snowmobile include a:

Platinum Package
  • Transceiver
  • Probe
  • Shovel


  • The transceiver is used to get close to a buried rider and must be worn on your body. Make sure you position your transceiver away from your smartphone. Smartphones have been known to interfere with transceivers. Keep your phone 8 inches away from your transceiver when riding and 1.5 feet away if searching for someone.

    A probe will help to find their exact location and the shovel is needed to dig them out. The probe and shovel should be carried in your pack and NOT on your sled. Make sure you practice with your equipment prior to going out so you know how to use it. Remember, time is of the essence.

    You may want to consider buying an avalanche airbag pack. If you are the person caught in an avalanche, inflating the airbag may keep you on top of the snow.

    Know the Warning Signs! If you see signs of unstable snow, riding on or underneath slopes is dangerous. Look for these signs:

    Recent Avalanches | These are major warning signs that slopes with a similar aspect and elevation are also unstable. Whumpfing or Cracking | Hearing a whumpfing sound or seeing crack shoot the snow means the snow pack is unstable. When these occur on a steep slope, the result is an avalanche. Heavy Snowfall | Significant snowfall can make the snow pack unstable. More weight added to the snow pack makes avalanches more likely. Blowing Snow | Wind blown snow adds weight to the snow pack even faster than heavy snowfall. Wind blown snow is usually found under ridge lines near cornices. Rain | Rain adds weight and weakens the snow pack at the same time. Rain on a cold dry snow pack almost always causes avalanches. Rapid Warming | Rapid warming can make the snow pack unstable, especially when air temperatures are near or above freezing. On warm days, watch for wet snow and small avalanches. These are signs that bigger avalanches are possible.

    Get out of Harm’s Way! The best avalanche safety is to not put yourself in a situation where an avalanche might happen. Tips to get out of harm’s way include:

  • Never park in avalanche run out zones especially if others are above you.
  • One at a time on all avalanche slopes.
  • Don’t group up in runout zones.
  • Identify when your group is at risk for an avalanche.


  • Avalanche slopes are: Any slope steeper than 30 degrees. (Even slopes with trees or very small slopes.) Low angle slopes if they have avalanche slopes above them.

    You can trigger avalanches from low angle slopes during HIGH avalanche danger.

    To get avalanche training, view a tutorial at fsavalanche.org Find a class at avalanche.org Avalanche Danger Scale

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