The Avalanche Triangle: Terrain, Weather, and Snowpack

avalancheIf you hike or ski or snowshoe or snowmobile in the backcountry, you need to be avalanche-aware. Thankfully, the Vail-local ski community has bonded together this winter to offer a series of avalanche awareness sessions, which are free and open to the public. Even though I’ve been through the Avalanche I course, I decided to attend the sessions, as it’s good to take and re-take courses to stay sharp. The first session focused on the Avalanche Triangle, the three key factors that contribute to avalanche danger: terrain, weather, and snowpack.

Terrain: There’s plenty of steep terrain around here in Vail, Colorado, and since most avalanches occur on slopes that range in steepness from 30-55 degrees, you don’t need to ski Mont Dolent in the French Alps, below, to put yourself in danger.


Weather: Factors like wind, temperature, and snowfall, all contribute to avalanche danger. So plan ahead before you go out in the backcountry on snowshoes or skis…it’s not all that smart to be caught out in steep, avalanche-prone terrain in the middle of a white-out.


Snowpack: As the snow falls, it settles in layers of varying strength and weakness. Understanding avalanches takes a lot of common sense and willingness to curb risky behaviors, but there’s also some snow science involved. Digging a snow pit to look at the snowpack will reveal a lot about the history of the snow you’re walking on or skiing over.


While terrain, weather, and snowpack are the key factors contributing to avalanche danger, you–the human factor–are the most important element in the middle of the triangle. At the end of the day, you’re the one who has to make the final decision about going into an potentially hazardous area or going home.

Want to know more about the Avalanche Triangle?
Read my article on the Survival Skills Site:
“Avalanche Survival: Know the Avalanche Triangle”
If plan on going outside to hike this winter or spring in snow-covered terrain, you need to consider avalanches as a viable hazard. An avalanche occurs in mountainous or even hilly terrain when snow and ice suddenly cascades down a slope…click here to continue reading

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

One response to “The Avalanche Triangle: Terrain, Weather, and Snowpack

  1. Pingback: » The Contrathetic Impasse – Key Sign of Heavy-Handed Agency at Play The Ethical Skeptic

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