Snow Study: Staying Safe in Avalanche Country

A small group is gathered around Public Safety Specialist Matt Mueller at the end of a day of Level One Avalanche Skills Training. He’s just demonstrated a “compression test” – cutting a column of snow to check the density of each layer: in this case loose, sugary crumbs underneath a solid cap of wind-packed crust. After explaining to us how easily snow like this can loosen and slide downhill, he lifts up the column – about 70 cm high and 30 cm square – and passes it around, a chunk of snow so heavy that one of the group staggers under its weight and falls over.

Demonstrating a compression test at Avalanche Awareness Day in 2014. Photo: Catharine Findlay.

Demonstrating a compression test at Avalanche Awareness Day in 2014. Photo: Catharine Findlay.

What does Matt and his group have to do with avalanche safety in our mountain parks? The first thing this demonstration drives home is that snow is heavier than you might think. “Imagine a whole slope of this coming down on top of you,” Mueller says. Second, there are many ways to learn more, be the most informed you can to keep yourself safer when you’re venturing into the backcountry in winter. Continue reading