BIGHORN MOUNTAINS — This year poses high risk for avalanches in the Bighorn Mountains. Before heading up the mountain for New Year’s weekend snowy adventures, ensure safety for the crew.
“This year, we started off and the ground was really warm,” Bighorn National Forest law enforcement officer Trampus Barhaug said. “We had some real cold nights, hoarfrost, then snow on top of that, making the snow fracture easily and slide.”
Hoarfrost, known on weather.com as “frost on steroids,” develops from water vapor in the air over cold ground with a surface dew point at least as cold as 32 degrees, according to the website. Hoarfrost covered by the powdery, cold snow the Bighorns continues to receive this season creates perfect conditions for avalanches.
The strong winds experienced in December loaded ridges with snow and covered holes, called blow holes, both of which prove dangerous when recreating on the mountain. A draw on the mountain creates a hole. Snow then blows over the hole, but does not fill it, creating a dangerous, hidden hole on the mountainside.
“We’ve gotten more snow than we’ve had in the last few years,” Barhaug said, “especially on the north end of the mountain.”
Avalanche warning signs include any part of the mountain that has a slope or anything that looks to have already slid. Barhaug said even a 15-foot slope experiences avalanche conditions and possible breakage.
Planning ahead remains at the heart of Barhaug’s advice to mountain adventurers.
Tell someone not with the group where and for how long the adventure will last. In addition, never go out alone and wear beacons while snowmobiling or enjoying other snow activities. All of these safety measures help Sheridan Area Search and Rescue crews. Some of the most common issues SASR sees is a lack of communication between family members or friends that result in an unnecessary search, Barhaug said.
If you recognize an avalanche-prone area while on the mountain, contact Rick Young at Bear Lodge Resort at 307-752-2444 or 307-752-5444. Young provides a snow report on the resort’s website, bearlodgeresort.com, as well as maps, webcams and riding tips for snowmobilers. Bear Lodge also holds grooming contracts for the area and provides help in recognizing avalanche areas.