People have already been killed by avalanches in Montana this year. The Bitterroot is not immune to the "whump" and the resulting slide of tons of snow down a mountainside.

The Bitterroot National Forest is hosting a free avalanche awareness class January 25. The two-hour session at the Bitterroot National Forest Office in Hamilton, 1801 North First, will start at 7pm. It will provide valuable information for all winter outdoor enthusiast - downhill and cross-country skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers, snowshoe trackers, mountaineers and anyone else.

This is an introductory level class, according to Tod McKay, who also reported that many sections of Western Montana are under an avalanche advisory, especially at higher elevations.

Bitterroot National Forest hydrologist Ed Snook said he and Forest Service engineer Rich Raines will cover snowpack, stability evaluation, winter clothing, survival gear, avalanche rescue, and decision making. Both Snook and Raines are certified avalanche specialists.

There's only room for 30 people, so register early at the Forest Supervisor's Office in Hamilton - 363-7100.

McKay also advised people who are venturing into the backcountry to check the conditions before you go at the Missoula Avalanche website.