Avalanche researchers trigger avalanche near Cooke City

COOKE CITY – Even if you’re an expert, you can never be too safe in upstate Montana. That’s what two avalanche researchers learned firsthand last week after they triggered a slide near Cooke City.

It was last Friday when two avalanche researchers from the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center encountered the exact same phenomenon they were studying at Fisher Mountain.

“It’s incredibly terrifying,” Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center director Doug Chabot said Wednesday.

The two researchers had snowmobiled to an area on the mountain to dig some snow pits.

“One of them rode and then the second person came, and when the second person came, he triggered the avalanche from below,” Chabot said.


Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center

The second rider wasn’t on the runway, but under it.

“And he was able to propagate that break up the hill, which then got him. Luckily the other guy, the first guy, was safe,” Chabot said.

The first rider radioed for help, then rushed down the mountain to help his colleague.

“And fortunately he wasn’t buried. He had snow up to his thighs, but it was very close because it was a big avalanche,” Chabot said.

They were able to dig up the driver and his snowmobile, and thankfully no one was hurt, but it’s a reminder that there are no rules when it comes to Mother Nature.

“December and January can be pretty bad for avalanches in Montana. And that’s because we’re building a lot of weak layers in the snowpack right now,” Chabot said.


Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center

Chabot said the snow pack is relatively thin, typically only two to three feet thick in most places. And a thin snow cover can change very quickly. At some point, the weak layer can rupture, and when it ruptures, avalanches are triggered.

“But those who kill people in the United States are overwhelmingly either the victim or someone in their party who started the avalanche,” Chabot said.

He said it’s imperative to educate yourself about avalanche danger when backcountry skiing or exploring, and even if you know what you’re doing, be prepared.

“If you don’t have anything on you, you’re definitely easy prey,” Chabot said.

The Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center offers a variety of avalanche training courses, some of which are even held on site. They also post avalanche forecasts every morning on their website and Facebook page.

You can find them under Home | review Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center ( and Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center | Facebook.

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