Skip to Content

Be avalanche aware: What to know and how to be best prepared in our region’s backcountry

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) - The Colonial Theater played host to a different kind of event Tuesday evening. The amphitheater was filled with people who were itching to go out into the backcountry of Idaho and play in this season's powder.

While it may be a little early for the season to get into full swing, those who enjoy exploring Idaho's backcountry were all eager to learn about how to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

"There are concerns out there and unfortunately, a lot of us who play in our great backcountry of southeastern Idaho, and the surrounding area, often think that won't happen to me. That will happen to my friend or someone else. I don't know. And this is awareness," said Davin Napier a co-owner of Idaho Mountain Trading said.

Napier said one of the best things the event shared is the preparation behind what would make a successful trip in the backcountry.

"The first thing is, the proper equipment, you definitely have to go out in time. You play in the backcountry in snow specifically. Definitely a backpack, a shovel, a beacon, a probe. And that's one avenue. But also how to use it," Napier said.

Napier added it is also very important to make sure you do not go out into the backcountry alone.

"It's unfortunate when I hear about so little partnering and I get it we can go to non avalanche terrain and enjoy that for what it's worth. But most of us unfortunately get sucked into what is more avalanche terrain. And you should be out there with a partner all the time," Napier said.

A representative of the Idaho Department of Recreation, Brian DiLenge shared another avenue that many of our region's explorers can pursue is to get the proper education.

"We offer a lot of avalanche classes and all three of our regions, North Region, South Region, out of Boise, in the East Region and Idaho Falls," DiLenge said.

He says the classes are geared more towards motorized travel as that is what a majority of use in the area is, but says more and more skiers are coming to the different classes.

DiLenge says after you receive some education you can check out the different forecasting centers for avalanches in our region.

Luckily, Idaho Falls is close to four different forecasting centers. The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center, The Sawtooth Avalanche Center, The Gallatin Avalanche Center, and if you go closer to the Utah area to have your fun, The Utah Avalanche Center. But if you are not sure where you are going and are just trying to get good information to plan your trip you can visit which will give you a nationwide look at the avalanche dangers and links to the correct center.

DiLenge, says that the centers are a big help because they break the different areas down and show you on a scale of one to five the risk level with five being the most risk.

"There's not one way to say one area is worse than the other, because it all depends on the snowpack and the wind. So the weather, the wind, all of that plays a big factor in what kind of avalanches we're going to see for the season. Last year, for example, we had a really bad significant winter, and just depends on how the snow comes down and the weather associated with that depends on how we're going to have avalanches," DiLenge said.

Sarah Carpenter one of the presenters last night who is part of the American Avalanche Institution shared some ways how to recognize avalanche-based terrain.

She shared the recipe in the snow that can lead to an avalanche.

"A slab, a weak layer, and a bed surface," Carpenter said.

The slab is the top layer that is visible to us as we have our fun. the weak layer is often spotted through its greyish color underneath the slab. The bed surface can be the ground, ice, or anything as long as its something slick.

Carpenter also asked backcountry explorers to measure the angle to the slopes that they want to explore.

"Most slab avalanches occur in terrain between 30 and 45 degrees," Carpenter said.

The steeper the slope the more likely it is for the avalanche to occur. Carpenter also described how the trees in the area can give you a clue.

She shared how if you see trees that are smaller and not growing very tall it could be a sign that avalanches are common in the area, as the trees are not able to grow very tall due to being constantly knocked down. She also said "flagged" trees can be a major clue.

Flagged trees will look like half a tree. Meaning on the uphill side the branches have broken off and are not there. This could be due to previous avalanches. The downhill side of "flagged" trees will look like a normal tree.

People in attendance shared how valuable the evening was.

"Have enough awareness and education and preparedness and equipment so that, you know, when you're out having fun, it doesn't end in tragedy," Doug Cook said.

"Just get more awareness and learn more," Logan Smoot said.

"I'm from Canada and we have, you know, a lot of incidents up there as well. Personally, I just feel the need to learn as much as I can. Avalanches is because it is a safety concern back home and around here and knowledge is power. So it's just worth investing in," Cassidy Romeril said.

While many of them haven't gone out into the snow yet they all wanted to make sure their next trip didn't end in tragedy.

"I work in the emergency department and we hear, of the tragedies, both the survivors and the ones that don't survive. And, their families are ruined. And really, it just turns sour, and turns a really good day into something that, no one would ever dream of in their worst nightmares," Cook said.

"Just be prepared, check your bags, and make sure you have everything and extra clothing," Smoot said.

"It's what Mother Nature is kind of screaming at you to be aware of your surroundings and just kind of things to look out for, like the cracks in the snow. If you see the cracks kind of ahead of you, then you've got a warning sign," Romeril said.

The next Avalanche Awareness program will take place at the Idaho Parks and Recreation Regional Office on Jan. 19 at 6 p.m.

Article Topic Follows: Idaho

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

Braydon Wilson

Braydon is a reporter for Local News 8.


KIFI Local News 8 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content