La Nina's blowing off the doors this week, bringing with her a storm that forecasters are calling the biggest yet this season. As of Saturday morning the National Weather Service is predicting "...very heavy mountain snowfall of 4 - 8 feet possible from Tuesday through next weekend." Yes FEET, not inches. Additionally, strong winds gusting to 40 MPH will accompany the cold front, bringing windloading on leeward slopes and increased slide danger at the same time. Last weekend we found that unconsolidated crystals comprised the bottom 18+ inches of the snowpack when skiing the beetle-killed tree meadows near Anderson Mountain. It was buoyant and fun, but skinning up was like walking in sugar and made us nervous about how any layer could ever bond to it.
Hard to say exactly how four to eight feet of pow atop that sugar will affect snow stability, but I'll be erring on the side of caution this next week while its blowing in. However, when talking avalanches, I'd rather consult with the experts—they've certainly made it easy enough to do at missoulaavalanche.org. The West Central Avalanche Center's Steve Karkenan says in yesterday's advisory that:
"Above 7000 feet on steep wind loaded terrain the avalanche danger is MODERATE,
natural avalanches are unlikely and human triggered avalanches are possible. On all
other backcountry terrain the avalanche danger is LOW, natural and human triggered
avalanches are unlikely."
While that's good news for skiers who have been tentative in the backcountry because of the recently deadly snowpack, the advisory will continue to change with the weather. Stay safe and updated by checking in at www.missoulaaalanche.org.
And don't miss WCMAC's "Have a beer, save a friend!" fundraiser this Wednesday, January 18, fro 5-8 pm at the Northside Kettlehouse. Proceeds go to the underfunded center, and they've got some killer prizes and giveaways, too.