November 24, 2014
Winter 2013 - 2014


Recognizing avalanche terrain can help you ensure only one person at a time is exposed to avalanche hazard.

So the first question to ask: Is the terrain steep enough to avalanche?


The second question to ask: If not, is it connected to steeper terrain?

Many avalanche fatalities have occurred when people were riding on low angle slopes connected to steeper slopes above them.  The best way to determine whether the terrain is steep enough to avalanche is to actually measure it with a slope meter or inclinometer. See photo at right.

Vegetation can help identify where avalanches occur:

Avalanches frequently run down these chutes with no trees.  Trees in the run out zone show damage from avalanches.  With a stable snowpack, climbing these chutes is a great idea, but do it one at a time and watch from a safe zone.

But I don't climb big hills?

Even small slopes are avalanche terrain.  Recognizing avalanche terrain in big bowls is easy.  Identifying smaller slopes that can be equally deadly is more difficult.  If it is steeper than 30 degrees, it can slide.  The small avalanche in the photo at the top of this page resulted in a fatality.  Even on small slopes go one at a time.

When can I ride in avalanche terrain?

Some of the best riding is in avalanche terrain, but sometimes this is a good idea and sometimes it is not.

It's a matter of timing.  The snowpack can change as fast as the weather.  Some days the snow is stable and some days it is not. When the snow is unstable, it is time to play in meadows and low angle hills.  Go to the next section to learn how to determine if the snowpack is unstable.

Next Section: Snowpack »

A slope meter is an inexpensive and indispensable tool for learning how to determine slope angle. Don't leave home without it!

This tree is a good indication of avalanche terrain because frequent avalanche strip the branches off the uphill side of the tree.