This article originally appeared in Issue 6Â of our...
A fresh blanket of snow across the mountains is a beautiful thing, especially if you enjoy winter sports like skiing or snowboarding. However, despite this natural beauty, there are serious dangers to be aware of in winter terrain. One of the foremost dangers to anyone on or near the slopes is that of an avalanche.
If you're traversing a ridge, even a small avalanche can cause you to lose your footing and tumble down the slope. If you're at the base of a gulley, an avalanche can quickly bear down on your location, leaving you nowhere to go. Avalanches can occur when you're least expecting them; a pair of California motorists were recently buried as they drove down the highway. This is why it's essential to be aware of your surroundings and recognize avalanche warning signs.
Backountry.com partnered with Bruce Tremper of the Utah Avalanche Center to produce the following video about identifying and avoiding avalanche terrain. Bruce discusses what he calls “critical decision spots” as he navigates through the mountains, and mentions how to spot terrain traps which could become deadly even with safety gear (such as an avalanche airbag).
As Bruce says, 34 to 45 degrees is the key danger zone to be aware of when approaching slopes — 38 degrees is considered the peak danger point. For the uninitiated, those numbers don't mean much, but they indicate the importance of knowing how to measure slope angle.
Here are a few methods to consider for analyzing slope steepness:
Whatever method you use, the point remains the same: situational awareness will keep you safe in the mountains. If you're conscious of snow pack composition, slope angles, and terrain traps, you can navigate more safely during the winter.