THIS SNOWPACK SUMMARY EXPIRED ON March 31, 2017 @ 11:59 pm
Snowpack Summary published on March 31, 2017 @ 6:59 am
Issued by Ben Bernall - Kootenai National Forest
Avalanche Character 1: Storm Slab
Storm Slab avalanches release naturally during snow storms and can be triggered for a few days after a storm. They often release at or below the trigger point. They exist throughout the terrain. Avoid them by waiting for the storm snow to stabilize.

The highest peaks of the Kootenai National Forest have recieved multiple shots of snow this week above the 6,000' elevation mark.  These storm layers are comprised of varying densities that will have the potential to create small slab avalanches.  This layer of concern will be found in the upper snowpack (top 8-12") on all aspects of  mountains above 6,000".

BOTTOM LINE: Use caution before committing to steep terrain at upper elevations.  Likely problem areas will be in gullies and on steep leeward terrain where storm snow is deep and dense. 

Avalanche Character 2: Loose Wet
Loose Wet avalanches occur when water is running through the snowpack, and release at or below the trigger point. Avoid very steep slopes and terrain traps such as cliffs, gullies, or tree wells. Exit avalanche terrain when you see pinwheels, roller balls, a slushy surface, or during rain-on-snow events.

Spring is on!  And with it we can expect sudden rises in temperature and welcome shots of sunshine.  This will create the opportunity for loose wet slides.  These slow moving rivers of slush often seem benign; but, they do have the capacity to take you for a ride into the rocks or timber.

BOTTOM LINE: Pay attention to rapid changes in temperature and solar radiation.  If wet slides start to flow, stick to shaded aspects and low consequence terrain

Snowpack Discussion

This is the last "Snowpack Summary" I will be posting for the winter.  The Panhandle will continue to post forecasts into mid-April so check them out at if you are riding near the border country!

I would like to give a big thanks to the fine folks at the Flathead Avalanche Center for providing us with support and this website to post information.  Todd, Erich,Seth and the rest of the gang-big thanks!  I would also like to thank Jerry Wandler, Tom Gilmore, Judy Erwin and Mickey Carr for writing grant letters in support of the avalanche program.  Last but not least, Nate Stephens and the other handful of volunteers that joined me this winter in both good and bad weather to go dig in the snow.

recent observations

We are seeing some classic springtime avalanche problems out there.  Observations in the Cabinet Range are revealing some massive glide creeps on slopes with rock slab bed surfaces.  Some of these have released to the ground and some are just hanging there waiting for the right day.

Glide Cracks and small climax avalanches on Elephant Mt.

The last big rain storm that we encountered on March 18th resulted in some large wet slab avalanches that produced sizeable debris piles in the Eastern Cabinets. 


weather summary

Backcountry Forecast from NWS Missoula issued: 350 AM MDT Fri Mar 31 2017

DISCUSSION: Northerly flow feeding into a larger upper level low over northern Arizona combined with a weak mid level wave descending along the Continental Divide this morning will produce one more round of showers this morning. However any additional snowfall will be sparse and likely not accumulate well. The flow this evening will gradually become more westerly and drier air enter the region. Temperatures Saturday morning are likely to be quite chilly. The next system on Saturday is getting weaker and weaker with each model run. So do not really anticipate much in the way of snow (outside of the Bitteroot, Mission and Swan Mountains) this weekend. A more robust series of storms are possible early next week, though confidence remains modest at best. Thereafter we may see our first significant upper level ridge of 2017.

Kootenai: --------------------------- 5000-7000 FT ----------------------------

                          Today        Tonight      Sat

Cloud Cover      45%           40%           85%

Hi/Lo Temps     38 to 46     26 to 31     38 to 45

Winds(mph)      N 4            SW  6         SW 10G21

Precip Chc        0                 0                 50

Precip Type      none           none           showers

Liquid Amt       0.00            0.00           0.04 

Snow Amt(in)   0                 0                0

Snow Level       4500           5500          5000


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