Published by Jeremy Jones
Mountain Safety

By Jeremy Jones

One of the biggest evolutions in evaluating backcountry travel and avalanche safety is the frequency and ease of getting your local avalanche report. With a smart phone you can pull up the report including a video of a snow pit dug by an expert that same day in under fifteen seconds.

Your local forecast is an amazing tool and should be used every day you head out into the backcountry. Here are some of the things that I think about as I read the report and then decide where to go ride based on the danger rating:

LOW – Late afternoon wet slides are the only avalanche risk with this rating. I will ride over secondary exposure in this rating. My main concern is hitting undetected white ice on a steep slope and not being able to hold my edge.

“Spooky” MODERATE - (moderate rating with a deep persistent weak layer)

You won’t find the word “spooky” on an avy report but I call it this because moderate is the most dangerous rating there is in my mind. Moderate means that it is unlikely something will slide but if it does, the slide will be massive and probably kill you. This is the rating that kills the experts (Craig Kelly and Steve Romeo are two examples.) I pretty much treat moderate as considerable unless the weak layer is not that deep and I am not worried about large propagating slides. I expect all convex rolls and anything over 45 degrees to slide.

CONSIDERABLE – I tread very lightly in this rating. Depth of slab and the chance for large propagating slabs change this rating to high for me. Having a safe route to the top is also essential as you’re often climbing through the same terrain you’ll ride down. On the descent I look for terrain with lots of islands of safety and stay away from big bowls and faces. I expect everything over 35 degrees to slide.

HIGH – With a high rating I am most likely riding a resort. I will go on a below 30 degree tour in terrain I know very well and does not have any avalanche terrain above me. Tours like these are more like going cross-country skiing then snowboarding…which is why I usually ride a resort.

When there has been a lot of fresh snow or there is a buried weak layer I also bump up the danger rating. Here are a couple red flags that I look for:
Persistent weak layers – This is a major red flag on a report. This means there is a bad layer deep within the pack that is not healing. In some cases this bad layer never completely goes away. It may lay dormant for weeks at a time but if triggered in the perfect spot it can result in a massive avalanche.
Depth of Slab – Avy danger ratings are based on the likelihood of an avalanche happening and do not take into account the depth of slab. There is a huge difference between a 10” slab and a 3’ slab. A very small avalanche, 1/2 a volley ball court, is very serious when it is a 3 ft deep slab or deeper. When the size of the slab is deeper then two feet I bump the rating up a notch. High = Extreme, Considerable = High, Moderate = Considerable. Low always stays low.
The snowpack is always guilty until proven innocent in my mind. Unless the report is low I always ask myself, “what happens if the face I am on slides?” Picking clean lines and avoiding terrain traps/secondary exposure is always the name of the game no matter what the report is.
Ride to live another day!

Share Story
Published on
2 January 2013
13
Nov
Videos
OUT HERE ep.1 - Splitboarding In The Tetons With Iris Lazz
Thrilled to debut the first episode of the new OUT HERE video series! Made in partnership with Spark R&D, the OUT HERE series will share the splitboard adventures of Jones x Spark ambassadors as they explore the outer reaches of their...
Iris Lazzareschi
6
Nov
Introducing The 2019 DSCNT Pack Series
When you are one with your backcountry pack in fit and function it is a game changer. You move faster and conserve energy to ride stronger when your food and water are close at hand and your gear is locked down tight. We live and breathe...
Seth Lightcap
31
Oct
Published by Jeremy Jones
Eat Ride Vote By Jeremy Jones
When I started Protect Our Winters in 2007 the last thing I thought I would be dealing with was politics. I was just a snowboarder who had seen the effects of global warming first hand and who did not like the thought of a future without snow. I...
Jeremy Jones
23
Oct
Introducing The 2019 Jones Binding Collection
Bindings are the critical link between your body and your board. The perfect binding hugs your boot with no pressure points and transfers every movement to your edges with maximum efficiency. New for 2019, we are thrilled to introduce two new...
Seth Lightcap
18
Oct
Adventure Season - Trip Reports
2018 Jones BC Adventure Grant: Exploring The Kenai Fjords
Thrilled to present a trip report from the 2018 Jones Backcountry Adventure Grant expedition. In April 2018, Mount Baker local Corey Nolan and a crew of friends used the grant to help fund an exploratory trip to Kenai Fjords National Park in...
Seth Lightcap
16
Oct
Adventure Season - Trip Reports
Tacking & Turning - A Sail/Split Expedition To Canada’s Jervis Inlet
Thrilled to present a trip report from the 2018 Jones Ambassador Adventure Grant expedition! In 2018 we awarded the grant to Jones Ambassador Harry Kearney to help fund a unique sailboat based trip to a remote zone on Canada’s West Coast. Harry...
Harry Kearney