Avalanche hazards are present in the mountains - obvious or not - during all seasons. Whether winter bottomless powder, wet spring slab or summer cornice collapse avalanche terrain and the conditions that trigger avalanches are always present. Sometimes we even seek out "high risk" terrain to play on - like skiing chutes, jumping cornices or swing tools into ice cliffs... that usually reside just below collection basins. Sometimes we could be driving in our car right through terrain that has a regular history of sloughing and sliding. Think about it. When in these "high potential" areas we need to crank up our awareness. As skiers, ice climbers, mountaineers and mountain travelers it's part of the game to read the terrain, study the snow pack and select a safe route for you and your companions. Snow study and avalanche awareness can be tons of fun too - take a look into the microcosm of plates and flakes, needles and dendrites - snow that is.

EQUIPMENT Snow tools are divided into three basic categories: 1) interpretive 2) detective and 3) rescue. Actually, many of these tools have multi-function, making you feel smart about carrying them. For Instance your shovel can dig pits, serve as a stove base for hot chocolate mid-day and is at the ready for digging out a partner. Of course, you can't hit the trail without them - deciding to "buy them next year" or leave them in the trunk of your car to lighten your pack but either avoidance tactic would be a thin excuse should the very urgent response to an avalanche necessitate their use.

Interpretive Detective Rescue Other
snow pit kit avalanche cord shovel 10 essentials
thermometer electronic beacon snow saw adequate clothing
crystal card visual meter (opt) self rescue first aid kit
magnifiers spare batteries AVA lung space blanket
snow pit card probe   emergency bivy gear
brush probe poles   heat packs
tapa mea sure    
slope meter      

PERSONAL GEAR & CLOTHING - When in avalanche terrain there's always the possibility of needing to be clothed to keep you warm and to keep the snow out. In reality, dressing for success in winter is always a balancing act: bundle up and it's a "blue bird" day, peel off your shell gear and the wind will kick up. The key is dressing in layers - which can be added or subtracted in response to your activity level as well as the weather. Keep in mind that you will "build up a lot of steam" when climbing or skiing and loose a lot of heat hanging around at the belay or at rest stops. Pit zips on Jackets will get a lot of use. Always remember to check that everyone is prepared to cross potential hazardous terrain - zipped up, goggles on, wrist straps off, pack belt unbuckled, etc. Black Diamond has a introduced a revolutionary new garment - the Ava-Lung which is a vest worn over all other clothes. A snorkel mouth piece is conveniently available to breath from should the need arise. The Ava-Lung gathers air (oxygen) directly from the snow through mesh panels which then is available to breathe. As snow contains a high percentage of O2 it is possible to survive quite lengthy burials using the Ava-Lung - in tests "victims" have remained buried for over an hour. This neutralizes the immediate concern for suffocation which can quickly result from a frozen "mask" forming over the victims face and greatly will increase one's

TEAM GEAR - Although most avalanche tools need to be carried on your person in order to be accessible and immediately available some items may be shared in the group. Snow survey kits are an example. Groups may also strategize about the size and style of shovels depending on terrain and route selection and may elect to carry a small part of civilization and security with them - in the form of a cellular phone.

WHAT ELSE - Some consider safe snow travel and avalanche avoidance as much as an art as it is a science. Listen to that inner voice (and the mountains) and always be alert and attentive to weather patterns and the snow pack. Keep a "winter calendar" logging storms, periods of unusually warm weather, dry spells, etc. This will help you develop a relationship with what's underfoot and to identify the "reasons" for what you uncover when digging your pits. Attend an "on snow" workshop or seminar as given by guide outfits, the USFS or others. Spend a week in the high country with a ski guide - you'll start to see the art and "feel" the conditions and dig lots of pits. Consider volunteering time with a mountain rescue team or area ski patrol - the contribution you make will be paid back many fold with an education - from seasoned experts plus experience that can't be gotten any other way.

OTHER SKILLS - Wilderness first aid training (emphasis on cold injuries), self rescue, back country skiing, snow shoeing, snow cave construction.

SNOW SENSE - Fredston

www.adventuresports.com/ski/skisafe.htm (quick primer) www.csac.org/education/snowmans_faqs.html (avalanche FAQs) www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/avalanche/snowsense.html (excerpts - SNOW SENSE) www.couloir-mag.com (Couloir Magazine) www.backcountrymagazine.com (Back Country) www.skipatrol.org www.nwac.noaa.gov (Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center) www.avalanche.org (Westwide Avalanche Network)

AVALANCHE AWARENESS - Armstrong & Williams