Hoping to increase awareness in the winter backcountry, the Flathead National Forest has reorganized its avalanche program with the launch of a new website.
The Flathead Avalanche Center (FAC) launched its site last week, www.flatheadavalanche.org. The site will provide up-to-date information about local avalanche conditions, snow pack, mountain weather and upcoming education classes and events for all types of recreationists. The center’s coverage area will include the Cabinet, Flathead, Mission, Purcell, Swan and Whitefish ranges in the Flathead and Kootenai national forests as well as sections of Glacier National Park.
The FAC is also increasing the number of weekly winter advisories from two to three. Beginning in December, advisories will be released on Saturdays as well as Tuesdays and Fridays. The advisories will include current danger levels for avalanche conditions and expected weather.
“The advisories complement the education that anybody gets. That’s the service of the advisories,” said Tony Willits, a snow and avalanche specialist with the Flathead National Forest and the new coordinator of the FAC. “The more education people strive to get the better off they are as far as knowing what to do in backcountry.”
Last winter avalanches killed 34 recreationists nationwide — 20 skiers and snowboarders, nine snowmobilers and five hikers. Six of those deaths occurred in Montana and three were in the Flathead National Forest.
On the eve of the upcoming winter, the Flathead National Forest is hosting an avalanche safety program at its office, 650 Wolfpack Way in Kalispell, on Tuesday, Dec. 4 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Stan Bones, a longtime avalanche specialist who is involved with the FAC, will lead the discussion for the event, which is titled, “Avalanche Danger, Risk Management and How Did Things Go Wrong?”
“Each and every fatal avalanche incident is a unique and sadly tragic event,” Bones wrote on the new FAC website. “If we fail to study and learn from what happened in the incident, however, they become even larger tragedies and losses as we are destined to repeat them. And this even further cheapens and makes futile the initial loss of life.”
The event is free and open to the public.
Another set of courses is scheduled for January. The FAC is holding a series of advanced avalanche awareness courses that are free and open to the public Jan. 7, Jan. 9, Jan. 11 and Jan. 16. The courses will be 6:30-9:30 p.m. Field sessions accompanying the courses will be held at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Jan. 12 and Jan. 19 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The new FAC website offers more information about these courses and any new courses will be included in the near future.
The website will also offer a section for recreationists to post observations seen in the backcountry. The posts will be screened before being posted. The goal will be to include information about conditions and incidents as soon as possible, Willits said.
In addition to the website, the FAC will also release information on its Twitter feed, www.Twitter.com/FACAvalanche. The phone number to call for recorded avalanche advisories remains the same, 406-257-8402.
Over the last decade, on average, about 29 people die in avalanches each year nationwide.
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