Dig quick pits on your ascent.
A hasty pit is a hole dug in the snow that helps you identify weak and strong layers. If you suspect that there may be a weak layer buried deeply, you should always dig below that point. Otherwise a hole about one meter (3 ft) deep should be sufficient.
Once you dig the hole, you will be able to see major layers on the wall of the snow pit. You can detect hard strong layers and soft weak layers by poking the exposed layers in the wall of the pit with your finger, or by brushing the pit wall with your hand and looking for hard and less hard layers. You can also slide a credit card or ruler down through the layers and note the changes in resistance. An additional indicator that will help you identify layers that otherwise may be hard to detect is the shovel shear.
The more observations you make and stability tests you perform the more apt you are to accurately assess the stability. Relying on one piece of data is like getting married on your first date. Sometimes it works, but generally it's not a good idea.
Where should I dig a pit?
It can be difficult to choose a place to dig a pit. Choose a representative spot and a safe spot that has undisturbed snow conditions similar to the slope you want to ride. In other words, you don't want to dig in an area that is wind scoured, has a big cornice, machine tracks, or bunches of vegetation. Dig on a slope small enough that even if it slides you will not get hurt or.
Do I need to dig on a steep slope?
No. Always start by digging on a slope less than 30 degrees before entering steeper terrain. Also recent research has shown that you can conduct stability tests on slopes less than 30 degrees and find similar results as you would on steeper slopes...as long as the snowpack structure is reasonably consistent.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Is it safe?
- Is the snow undisturbed?
- Is it similar to the slope I am concerned about?
If the Terrain is Steep
When you're gathering data on slopes steeper than the low 30° range, consider using a belay. If your plans include exploring steep terrain, a small climbing rope should always be included in your gear.
Lower your partner onto a portion of the slope that has undisturbed snow conditions representative of the overall slope. Do not dig your pit beneath a cornice.
Next Section: Observe the Weather