Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - With all the new snow that has fallen in western Montana over the past few weeks, the Director of the West Central Montana Avalanche Center, Jeff Carty, told KGVO News that avalanche danger has increased dramatically.

Learn a New Term 'Whumpfing'

“The late October snow and the early November snow that came in that sat on the ground for a while changed the snow into weaker crystals called ‘facets’ which are very weak and slippery crystals,” began Carty. “This new snow is loaded with up to two feet of new snow that are consolidating into a slab, and across the forecast area we're getting reports of widespread ‘whumpfing’ cracks which are signs of instability, natural avalanches, and human-triggered avalanches.”

Carty further described the term ‘whumpfing’ in avalanche language.

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“Whumpfing is the sound the snow makes when there's a collapse in the snowpack; when those weak layers give out under the weight of the new snow or the weight of a person or someone on a snowmobile on top of it, it will collapse and it will give a sound like a whumpf, and so that's actually the technical term for those collapses. If you get a collapse like that, what happens is that those layers collapsing and it's delaminating the slab of new snow from the underlying bed surface. If the slope you're on is steep enough to slide once that whumpf happens, and it delaminates, then you can get an avalanche.”

The Backcountry is no Place for a Beginner, so Never Go Alone

Carty said backcountry skiing and snowmobiling are definitely not for the beginner or the amateur, as the danger in the backcountry can be high.

“The first thing you need to know before you go into avalanche training is how to be safe, how to recognize the signs of instability in danger, and also how to recognize avalanche terrain,” he said. “If you don't have that knowledge, I would suggest not going into the backcountry or entering areas where avalanches might be possible, and instead, sticking to spots like the groomed trails or snowshoe trails. At Lolo Pass they are safe, but venturing beyond those, if you don't have that knowledge, I wouldn't suggest right now.”

Stay Safe by Taking Special Equipment into the Backcountry

Carty described the safety equipment that every backcountry skier or snowmobiler should have and know how to use.

“If you're going to go into the backcountry with other people, you need to make sure that they have an avalanche transceiver, a shovel, and a probe, and that they've practiced and are capable of using all those things. People should have taken a class where they received avalanche training, and then you need to have folks who practice with that equipment regularly. There's an art to finding somebody with a transceiver and probing for them, and there are techniques to properly shoveling someone out.”

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