In the mid-seventies, I would start the week of snow surveys by leaving home a little before 7:00 am, meeting Jay Penney at Grave Creek, then snowmobiling up to Stahl Peak, Weasel Divide and then catching the Grave Creek on the way down. After that it was a week of motel living as we would sample snow courses four more days, ending with Banfield Mountain. Later in the decade, it would be 5 days in the Kootenai drainage, then 5 more in the Flathead. By the end, we were going in by helicopter.
Forty and more years later it’s a lot easier. The snow pillows are attached to improved versions of the telemetry we pioneered, and solar-powered batteries have replaced the clockwork scrolls that once monitored the pillows 24/7. (A pillow is a bladder filled with antifreeze that is pressed upward in a well as more snow sits on it, and down as the snow melts.)
Today, there are fewer sites – and all it takes to check the snow depth is this web address: https://www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/snow/ It leads to a map, where you can click on a dot, read the snow/water equivalent, and learn the percentage of normal. For example, as I write this, Stahl Peak shows 17.6” of snow/water equivalent, and is 103% of average. Grave Creek matches the long-term average with 7.3 inches. Hawkin’s Lake shows 110% of the long-term average with 12.8. Give the site a try – we can all know how much snow is in the mountains, without leaving the living room. I thought it was easier for us with snowmobiles than our predecessors who did all the work on skis and snowshoes – but it is a whole lot easier now