Spring is generally a safe time to travel in the mountains but there are some rules to live by. The safest and best conditions will exist after a good nighttime freeze. Dig a pit to see how deeply the freeze penetrated. This will give you an idea of how quickly the snow will become slushy and unstable. Get on the slopes early before the temperatures get too warm or the sun gets too intense. Mountain temperatures above 50 degrees should be an indicator that conditions are becoming unstable. Strong radiation can penetrate deep into the pack and destabilize weak layers. Steep south facing slopes are affected most rapidly by strong sun. If you are into the slush up to your boots or you’re laying on the throttle to move its time to get off the slope. By planning your route to take you to slopes just as they come into the sun and begin to thaw you can enjoy good, safe sliding. Always be careful around rock outcroppings because they hold heat and weaken the snow for some distance around them. Rain always weakens the snow pack and this time of year rain can lubricate ice crusts making the overlying layers more prone to slide. When we do get new snow watch for the type of surface it is bonding to. New snow on an ice crust that is experiencing melting during the day can be extremely unstable, especially if it is wind-loaded. In general, new snow will be more sensitive to radiation. Surface hoar can also be a weak layer in the spring so check under the new snow accumulation to make sure you’re not dealing with that little devil. Finally, keep track of extended periods of thawing, not only during the day but most importantly overnight. This will also decrease snow stability. Night-time temperatures below freezing are a must for good sliding conditions, and safe sliding conditions. The more nights in a row that freezing conditions occur, the more stable the snow is likely to be. Freezing conditions will usually accompany clear nights while overcast nights tend to trap heat.
In the high country the Panhandle is 111% of average for snowpack, the Spokane drainage area is 106% and the Clearwater region is at about 111% of an average snowpack as of March 1st. I suspect the way the weather is going the snowpack will melt rather quickly but you should have about another month of good conditions before things start to get patchy. Then, if you're still itchin, you''ll have to switch to more northerly aspects and a fair amount of bushwhackin. Just look at it this way, the more time you spend in the high country the less likely you are to contract the Coronavirus.
IPAC would like to thank the Friends of IPAC for helping us with our level 1 classes this year as well as a number of great fundrasing events. We really appreciate the help and could not run at this level without them. Thanks to Idaho Parks and Recreation for partnering with us on avalanche education classes. Thank you to Matchwood Brewing for hosting the manthly pitchats, which were a big success. Thank you to the Alpine Shop in Sandpoint for providing gear and expertise. Thanks to those who sent in observations. Speaking of observations, thanks to Tom Eddy for all the obs from atop Schweitzer Mountain. He was an appreciated part of everybody's morning. Thank you to Schweitzer Mountain for hosting our avalanche classes. Thank you to Schweitzer Ski Patrol for helping us teach avalanche classes, Kim and Cass. Thanks to Panhandle Backcountry for partnering in avalanche safety and helping with the Friends Group. Thanks to Lance Gidley for filling in on advisory days and breaking trail when the snow was deep. Thanks to everyone who attended our avalanche classes and thanks to those who became members. We really have a great network here and we hope to keep it going. Have a great spring and summer and we'll see you next winter.
Avalanche conditions change for better or worse continually. Backcountry travelers should be prepared to assess current conditions for themselves, plan their routes of travel accordingly, and never travel alone. Backcountry travelers can reduce their exposure to avalanche hazards by utilizing timbered trails and ridge routes and by avoiding open and exposed terrain with slope angles of 30 degrees or more. Backcountry travelers should carry the necessary avalanche rescue equipment such as a shovel, avalanche probe or probe ski poles, a rescue beacon and a well-equipped first aid kit. For a recorded version of the Avalanche Advisory call (208)765-7323.
This website is owned and maintained by the Friends of the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center. Some of the content is updated by the USDA avalanche forecasters including the forecasts and some observational data. The USDA is not responsible for any advertising, fund-raising events/information, or sponsorship information, or other content not related to the forecasts and the data pertaining to the forecasts.