Breaking News
More () »

Idaho backcountry experts talk safety as storm brings heavy snow, avalanche danger

The Sawtooth Avalanche Center warns of "very dangerous" avalanche conditions.

SUN VALLEY, Idaho — The 2020-2021 avalanche season was the deadliest season in the U.S. since 2013. According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, 33 people were killed in avalanches last winter.

An avalanche has killed at least one person in the 2021-2022 winter season. It occurred Saturday on Crystal Mountain in Washington.  

Avalanche and backcountry ski experts in Idaho want to remind people of what to do when heading into avalanche-prone conditions.

"We just have a really intense ongoing winter storm, that's drawing to a close right now," said Ben VandeBos, an avalanche forecaster with Sawtooth Avalanche Center.

The Sawtooth Avalanche Center has put out a warning of dangerous avalanche conditions in their forecasted area because more than four feet of snow has fallen within the past few days, VandenBos said.

The warning applies not only to higher elevations in the mountains, but also to areas on the valley floor, including Hailey, Ketchum, Sun Valley and Stanley.

RELATED: More snow on the way Wednesday night; more valley accumulations expected

While VandenBos said conditions might begin to improve, more snow is on its way and being prepared is key.

"When we talk about travel in the backcountry it's having the appropriate safety gear, knowledge of how to use it and the training behind it. A beacon, a shovel and a probe are your bare minimum safety gear," said Brad Acker, an instructor with Avalanche Science LLC and a ski patroller with 705 Back Country Ski Patrol.

Acker has been skiing for more than 20 years. He explains the tools will save lives if someone is caught in an avalanche because a beacon will signal their location in an area, even under the snow, and lead rescuers to them.

Acker's biggest piece of advice is to never travel alone.

"All sorts of skill levels can go into the backcountry. The best thing to think about is you want to have a mentor. You want to be with someone who has lots of experience in the backcountry," Acker said. "That's the best way to get into it and familiarize yourself with all the safety protocols."

Acker suggests people brush up on lessons online with the website "Know Before You Go," which is a free avalanche awareness program. 

Other experts echo the advice to never travel alone and bring the proper equipment when heading out. Idaho Mountain Touring president Chris Haunold said researching your destination is crucial.

"Paying attention to the weather," Haunold said. "You can get data on how much snow has fallen in a certain period of time, what was going on before the snow fell, and it will help you."

Haunold mentions the Sawtooth Avalanche Center posts forecast of the area each morning. It primarily gives conditions around the Sawtooth area, but Haunold said a lot of the information can apply to other parts of the state.

"It gives you a sense of what you might be watching for if you're going out for a hike, going out for snowshoeing or that sort of thing," VandenBos explained. "Folks who are maybe a little less familiar with how avalanches happen or where they happen."

VandenBos said the Sawtooth Avalanche Center also puts out recaps every Friday of everything that happened in terms of avalanche conditions and weather for the past week.

Ultimately, experts believe for those that may be nervous or aren't sure of an area to not chance it.

"If you're not sure, don't do it," Haunold said. "Just don't push it if you have any questions on it."

The Payette Avalanche Center, based in McCall, monitors conditions in the West Central Mountains. It has not posted any advisories, but its forecast issued Tuesday morning says wind, more than two feet of snow, and more snow through Thursday "should keep you out of avalanche terrain, or off of and far away from slopes steeper than 30 degrees." It also advises avoiding steep and wind-loaded terrain.

Watch more Local News:

See the latest news from around the Treasure Valley and the Gem State in our YouTube playlist:

Before You Leave, Check This Out