Logo Jim Frankenfield
jim@mountain-guiding.com; 1-877-604-0166

Mountain Guiding; Mountain Safety
An Experienced Professional

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Guiding Newsletter

"Safety Soapbox" Archive - January 2000


Snow Pits - When and Why?

Having given a few tips on locating snowpits I'll now ask "why bother"?

There are many times when a snowpit can offer helpful additional information to the bigger picture of whether or not the snow will stay put. But the key is that it is the big picture which is important. The majority of accident reports I read are for incidents occurring in conditions where a snowpit wasn't necessary. Often the people dug a snowpit but missed other more obvious information. Sometimes they used their snowpit or their tests to justify doing something the big picture didn't look good for.

I suggest asking a couple questions first before digging a snowpit.

  • First, what are you looking for? By the time you get out the shovel you should be seeking fairly specific information in most cases.

  • Second, will you change your plans based on this snow profile and test? If the answer is no then you are either trying to justify a decision already made or you have made a decision you feel is good based on your big picture. In either case it is a waste of time to dig.

I am certainly not against digging snowpits, and after asking the questions above to keep yourself in line you will often want to do one. I am against doing it as a matter of habit with no clear reason. I also think that an entire big-picture based on a single snowpit is a bad idea, but too common.

Aside from assessing current conditions a good reason for snow pits is "calibration". You already know it's dangerous, but how does that really show up in your shear test? You know from the advisory that a particular weak layer exists - can you find it? These experiences help improve your interpretation of tests and your understanding of the snowpack.


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