understanding snowpack & reading avalanche reports
Written by Michael Wachs, AMGA Certified Ski Guide
CONFIDENCE: the feeling of self assurance in our own abilities. Confidence in your choices comes from experience, and backcountry skiing or riding is no different. To gain confidence in reading avalanche reports and relating the information to the current snowpack, you must gain experience over time. I’ll be breaking down the details of how I do this as a professional mountain guide in the Tetons. In this article, we’ll cover: how to read the forecast, take notes of what patterns we see going on and while we’re out on a tour, and how to observe any hazards there might be relating to the forecast and snowpack.
Sometimes, you’ll go out and see a difference between what was listed in the forecast and the actual conditions (ie. more snow, more wind, more avalanche activity). This difference should be considered a warning to your confidence in knowing the conditions for your descent. However, if we read the forecast, identify the hazards while on a tour, and affirm what we have read, that will give us assurance in our forecast.
Consider this example: If the forecast says that the avalanche hazard is considerable with 6-9 inches of new snow with moderate winds from the SW, buried facets could most likely be loaded to cause avalanche activity.
Here are some ways to approach this forecast...