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Carbon County looks to fund avalanche forecasting in the Snowy and Sierra Madre mountains

Highway 130 in Wyoming winds through a winter scene in Medicine Bow National Forest.
Jimmy Emerson, DMV
Flickr Creative Commons
The Snowy Range in Carbon and Albany counties is a growing destination for winter sports enthusiasts.

The Snowy and Sierra Madre mountain ranges may soon be getting their own avalanche forecasting center. Carbon County Sheriff Alex Bakken has applied for a state grant to fund what he considers a critical part of Southern Wyoming’s public safety infrastructure.

Many other parts of the West, like western Wyoming, Colorado and Utah, have dedicated staff members who provide color-coded avalanche danger forecasts for winter sports enthusiasts planning trips to the mountains. They also often highlight slide data, safety education courses and snowpack analysis.

Carbon and Albany counties don’t have these resources, so Bakken is asking for $295,000 from the Wyoming Department of Recreation to pay for the staff and support of a forecasting center. The grant would fund the facility for about three years.

“A full time avalanche forecaster and or a second – or volunteers – would analyze snowpack conditions and weather forecasts and [be] able to provide an accurate avalanche forecast,” Bakken said. “Not only to keep our search and rescue members safe, but also for our massive influx of out of state tourists that come to snowmobile in the Snowies and the Sierra Madres.”

A screen shot from an avalanche center shows a map with Wyoming's main mountain ranges. Areas in the eastern part of the state are shaded gray due to a lack of forecasting resources.
Screenshot Courtesy of the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center
Mountain ranges shaded in gray have no local avalanche forecasting capabilities.

Bakken said he’s received support from federal agencies – including the U.S. Forest Service – as well as local tourism boards and snowmobile clubs. It’s unclear when state officials will announce results of the grant application, but Bakken said that national avalanche experts have identified Southern Wyoming as an area in critical need of forecasting capacity.

“These two ranges are one of the four locations in the nation that are in most need of a forecast station,” he said. “There's minimal infrastructure needed to enact a pretty significant public safety assist.”

This grant request comes after Jacob Fluty, a 34-year-old Saratoga council member, was killed in an avalanche in the Sierra Madre Range earlier this year. Fluty had reportedly been snowmobiling near Bridger Peak in an area known as “Avalanche Alley.” Deadly incidents for snowmobilers in Wyoming have risen in recent years, and the sport continues to grow in popularity in the eastern part of the state.

Further north, the Bighorn Mountains also don't have a dedicated avalanche forecasting center. The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center has created a community observation page for eastern Wyoming.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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