Avalanche Safety (PE 2286)
Ron Watters, Professor Emeritus
Sports Science & Physical Education
Idaho State University
PE 2286 - 1 Credit - Spring Semester Only
Brief Description: Avalanches are, by far, the most serious mountain hazard in the winter, and this course helps equip winter travelers with the knowledge and skills to minimize or avoid these hazards. Lecture topics include: snow crystal identification, snow pack metamorphism and factors influencing avalanche formation. Field sessions include: snow pit analysis, use of transceivers, rescue techniques and backcountry safety considerations.
For more information:
Avalanche Safety in the Backcountry (Concise guidelines for winter travel.)Blank Snow Pit Charts (PDF downloadable snow pit charts used in the class.)
Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper. Tremper is the man. If you get one book on avalanche safety, this is the one to get.
Ken Libbrecht's Field Guide to Snowflakes. Ken Libbrecht is a physicist and the high wizard of snow crystals.
Snow Sense by Alaskans Jill Fredston and Doug Fesler. This small guide is easy to understand and very sense-able (sorry, couldn't resist).
Recommended Hand Lens and Compass:
Donegan V341-T Triple Folding Pocket Magnifier. This is my favorite hand lens for snow crystal work. It's inexpensive, has 5X, 10X, and 15X magnification - and the best feature for use in snow pits is the larger lens size.
Silva 515 Ranger Compass. This link takes you what I feel is the best compass for avalanche work and outdoor navigation, and the pricing is the best I've found. I own a Silva which I've used for 40 years, and yours will last that long as well. If you do some comparison shopping, check to make sure that the compass has a separate black arrow which is used to measure slope angle (called an inclinometer or clinometer). That's important. Also check the degree scale. It should run from 0 to 360. There's a version of the Silva Ranger compass in which the degrees are divided into quadrants from 0 to 90. It usually has a Q in the model name, like Silva 15CLQ. Don't buy it. It's nearly impossible to use quandrant compasses for outdoor navigation work. Rather make sure that the compass has a full 360 range.
New York Times Article on the Tunnel Creek Avalanche:
Avalanche Advisories. On this page, you find links to websites where you can obtain avalanche forecasts of backcountry areas in our region.
Teaching Avalanche Courses. This not a required paper for the course, but if you'd like some background on the class, it provides details on my philosophy of teaching avalanche courses, the teaching progression I use for the class, and reasons why I cover certain types of material. The original paper, written quite some time ago, was one of the first to articulate an approach to avalanche education and one of the references used when the national Level 1 certification course was developed.
Pub History: This page was originally located at the following URL:
Information on Idaho State University Outdoor Education is found here: ISU Outdoor Education
Subsidary sites with information are found here: