Avalanche Awareness And The Five Red Flags

Avalanche Tools

For Christmas, Santa brought me a complete set of avalanche tools including a BCA Tracker2 avalanche beacon, Black Diamond Quickdraw Guide Probeand Deploy 7 Shovel. As excited as I am to finally get out and have some backcountry fun, the gift got me thinking about avalanche awareness and how to travel smart in the backcountry.

Snowboarder Jeremy Jones recently wrote a great blog post about the five red flags you should constantly be looking for when you head out to find some fresh powder. The five red flags indicating unstable snowpack are as follows:

1. Recent avalanche activity- read local avalanche reports and be on the lookout for evidence of natural avalanche activity as you travel to the mountains. This is usually a sign the snowpack is unstable. 

2. New snow- 90% of human triggered avalanches happen during or within the first 24 hours after a storm. The more snow that falls and the faster it falls, the more apt it is to create dangerous conditions. Wet snow or rain falling on cold dry snow almost always causes avalanches. 

3. The dreaded whomping sound- while you are skinning, booting or snowshoeing uphill, if you see cracks or the snow drops out beneath you with a whomping sound, it's a sure sign of instability. 

4. Wind- keep an eye out for signs of recent wind loading such as cornices and pillows, as they are signs of dangerous wind slabs about.

5. Rapid temperature rise- rapid warming can transform fluffy powder into a dangerous slab in a very short time. In a settled more spring-like snowpack, if you are sinking into wet snow 6" or more, the snowpack surface is becoming saturated and wet slides could occur.

Check out Jeremy's ESPN article where he talks about the dangers of faceted snow and links to the latest avalanche conditions in all the major snow areas. 

So go enjoy all that great powder but remember to bring your avalanche tools, read the avalanche reports before you go, and keep an eye out for those red flags!


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