by Christian Santelices
High pressure in the Tetons has given me the chance to reflect on a busy season of avalanche education. Working for the American Avalanche Institute and Exum Mountain Guides, I teach both recreational and professional backcountry users the art and science of managing avalanche terrain. What I love most about teaching these courses is that I’m constantly learning and continually tweaking my teaching approach on certain topics.
A new advance in avalanche education and forecasting is the categorization of the different types of avalanches. This helps us identifying specific problems. Categorization allows us to narrow down the day’s particular problem, where that problem lives, and how it can be avoided.
Let’s take wind slab for example. Wind slab occurs in spots where the wind quickly deposits snow, building a slab (cohesive unit of snow) on top of a weak layer. Wind slabs are mainly found on top of ridges, but they can also occur anywhere the snow is blown sideways across a gully. If we diagnose a wind slab problem on a given day, I’ll plan my outing to avoid areas where wind slabs might occur, sticking to terrain closer that’s close to the trees or protected from the wind.
Every time I go into the backcountry, I need a plan. The only factor that I can control is what terrain I choose to ski or ride in. By understanding avalanche problems, I make safer decisions, allowing me to return home to recount my adventure.
Here are some great planning resources:
- The American Avalanche Association website provides links to all the forecast centers across the country. Check out your center’s link and visit it often.
- The National Avalanche Center has an encyclopedia of avalanche terms with graphics.
- To learn more about avalanche problems and terrain management guidelines, check out the Utah Avalanche Center’s website.
Want to learn more?
Take an avalanche class and arm yourself with information to make better decisions in the backcountry! Check out the National Avalanche Center to find a course near you.
We are proud to call Christian Santelices a Kate’s ambassador. As a certified mountain guide, public speaker, writer, and activist, he dedicates his career to adventure team-building and empowering educators. Check out Christian’s personal guide service, Teton Adventure Park, specializing in custom adventures and team-building.