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Avalanche center begins to offer safety workshops

Students practice using avalanche beacons at Story Mill Park.jpg

As avalanche conditions persist right now in the mountains surrounding Bozeman, the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center has started its series of avalanche beacon training workshops.

Montana has the highest number of snowmobile avalanche fatalities in the nation.

GNFAC educator Josh Olsen led Thursday night's workshop and said even if you don't recreate in the backcountry, it's still a good idea to learn about avalanche safety.

"Some people in southwest Montana have been caught in avalanches who didn't know they were in avalanche terrain," he told the class.

The course went over the basic equipment needed to stay safe when recreating in the backcountry -- a snow shovel, an avalanche beacon and snow probe.

It also went over how to survey the terrain for avalanche activity and how to stay out of harm's way.

Olsen says a person's window of survival once caught in an avalanche decreased by 80 percent after just 10 minutes.

"There are things that you can do to minimize your chances of getting caught in an avalanche and they are -- get the gear, so have the right equipment to be out recreating in avalanche terrain; getting the forecast, so looking at the avalanche center's website; and getting the forecast everyday, so you know what's going on with the mountain weather; getting the picture -- so when you're out there making sure you're paying attention for recent signs of avalanche activity. Are you seeing weak layers, are you seeing wind loading or recent snow fall?" said Olsen.

According to Olsen, 90 percent of avalanches are human caused and can be avoided if you know how to evaluate the snowpack.

They also recommend skiing with a partner and making sure only one person skis down the slope at a time.

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