The Flathead Avalanche Center has issued an avalanche watch through Saturday for several mountain ranges in Northwest Montana.
The backcountry avalanche watch issued Thursday morning warns of high avalanche danger Friday and Saturday in the Swan, Whitefish and Flathead Ranges and Glacier National Park.
"So we've got several different weak layers now sitting on top of a slick crust, and so the only thing we're waiting for now is snow on top of that to create dangerous slab-avalanche conditions," says Zach Guy, the Center's director.
Guy says a new one to two feet of snow is expected to blow in over the next few days. The new snowfall could weigh down and break through those weak snow layers.
"What we're expecting is widespread avalanche activity on the surface, in the upper snowpack right now."
Guy recommends avoiding travel on or below slopes steeper than 30 degrees and carrying avalanche rescue gear in the backcountry.
"So even if your plan is to avoid avalanche terrain, sometimes we all make mistakes or misunderstand conditions or something like that. So to be prepared for that, we recommend you carry an avalanche beacon, have a shovel and a probe, and oftentimes an avalanche airbag. Those are sort of like a seatbelt while driving your car. It's not a license to drive recklessly, it just is another safety device for you to decrease your risks if you are caught."
The Center offers avalanche training courses and continues to issue daily avalanche forecasts and observations through the government shutdown.
Several backcountry skiers and snowmobilers have triggered or been caught in natural avalanches this winter.