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What do you look for when venturing off piste?

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Hi there, I am new to the forums and was wondering if people would be interested on giving me their input on a couple of matters. I am currently designing a new product for skiers and boarders in order to help people check snow pack conditions and recognize potentially dangerous slopes in backcountry areas. This is all for a final year BEng project I am working on at university. I have my own fair share of avalanche safety, training and skiing off piste terrain and would greatly appreciate other peoples views on the subject. I am focusing purely on preventing people from triggering avalanches in the first place, as that is the only way to ensure that you are safe, obviously it is impossible and always will be impossible to predict avalanches but any improvement at all is a success.

Firstly, does anyone regularly use an inclinometer in order to avoid slopes of certain angles, are you aware of the slope angles to avoid and how things such as air temperature can effect this? This is one area where I am potentially interested in improving as a majority of them require you to be on the slope itself in order to measure the gradient.

How many people do their own research before venturing out, eg. digging pits in the snow pack or checking previous weather conditions or do you rely solely on reports from the ski resorts themselves on current avalanche conditions.

From speaking to numerous guides and mountain experts they all agree that proper getting education is the best thing you can do, how many people have taken part in an avalanche safety course?

Is there anything in particular that you personally look for as a sign of danger and as a clear sign to avoid certain areas?

Is there anything you can think of, no matter how impossible it may seem that you wish existed as a product you could carry with you to allow you to spot and avoid dangerous slopes. I have a few ideas of my own that I am looking to develop but would like to know what people would take the time to use before they make their descent.

I really appreciate you for taking the time to read this and any suggestions or views on the matter would be a huge help.
I hope this is allowed on this forum but please let me know if it goes against any of the rules (I couldn't find anything against it so hope its ok)

Thank you!
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Snow
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A piste marker so that I can get back on piste quickly... Toofy Grin
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@hubUK, irrespective of what individual sHs may look for when skiing off-piste, I hope you're looking for a really good insurance company. The first time things don't work out, you will be sued (probably not by a snowHead). You're getting into very dodgy territory, much like many inexperienced off piste skiers.
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Not really a hardware product but....

One of the satellites launched recently (forget the name) has produced some very high resolution elevation data - some of which is available for free. There could be a market for a phone app / website which overlayed this, colour coded by gradient, over an Openstreetmap map. If you got really clever you could add in historic weather data to predict dangerous slopes.
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Never ride Northern or Eastern slopes after midday (Northern Hemisphere).

Sun heats up the snow on rocky, windbeaten slopes and off it slides.

That (very simple) advice will avoid 50-80% of mishaps.

Yall can thank me later Cool
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
My main tool for determining slope angle is a map, just read the contours. The closer they are together the steeper the slope. They will also show you where the large terrain traps are. One example of where looking at the map on a small screen is a disadvantage, much better on a large map.
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The piste
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@Whitegold, how does the sun warm north facing slopes?
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adithorp wrote:
@Whitegold, how does the sun warm north facing slopes?


My thoughts exactly
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I work in product development (unrelated) and ski off piste extensively so I'll have a go at a 'serious' answer - have you thought about a proper survey format to collate all the replies?

Inclinometer - not usually. I eyeball it or sometimes use the ski pole triangle trick (make a fall line impression, then complete the triangle and compare the downhill pole to vertical - 30 degrees). I have laid a pole on a slope then used my phone app, but it was a safe slope, mostly just did that for fun and bragging rights (46 degrees, in the Peak District!). Remember local terrain variations can be much greater than the average of a face so I find this approximation and assumption a bit misleading.

I'll generally start watching reports early season, try to understand the snowpack formation and watch weather and avvy reports to see if there are trends, as well as follow news. I will chat to pisteurs and maybe not dig a full pit but check for slabs, punch the surface with a ski pole feeling for layers. Also always scanning the resort looking for signs of movement and temperature trends. I don't rely on this info, but it's part of my learning curve to build a picture of what happens where and when.

I've done 2 weekend courses focusing on prediction and avoidance as well as rescue techniques. Ski 80% off piste for over 30 years now. Still lots to learn.

In terms of avoiding areas, all the usual - daily bulletin, elevation, pitch, aspect, terrain, objective dangers, features, exposure, location.

I use my Fenix watch for elevation, aspect and weather forecast as well as smart phone for bulletins, maps and the odd angle check.

OK, lawyers, disclaimers and ethics aside, here's my product:

AR avalanche googles - imagine a head up display with data overlayed and a thermal/xray camera so you can slice down into the snowpack and see the layers, substrate and bonding, as well as gradient and temperature, with a safe line highlighted on the screen. Think www.fatmap.com meets www.windy.com . The ski zone or line would be built by AI, analysing cloud data from all previous descents (grouped by locations, terrain, aspect etc), coupled with history of any incidents. The beta testers building the AI would be guinea pigs Shocked

Accelerometers also understand skier ability and keep the terrain choice achievable. Couple those with a jetpack (or personal drone pack) to not just protect but remove you from any danger in the event it goes wrong. Now all the punters have to worry about is keeping the right side up!

As I said, always room to learn and I use the 'if not sure, don't go' mantra - happy to have any of my above practice and assumptions corrected or improved since this literally could be life or death.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
hubUK wrote:
Firstly, does anyone regularly use an inclinometer in order to avoid slopes of certain angles

I don't.

A few problems I can think of.

#1 I would need to measure before I actually got on the slope - not sure if that is possible
#2 Slopes vary in gradient there may be short steep pitches on a long, mellow gradient slop - how does this get measured
#3 Skiing off piste, there are multiple routes and pitches that can be taken - so how assess my particular route with a device

hubUK wrote:
are you aware of the slope angles to avoid and how things such as air temperature can effect this?

Broadly, yes. It's a process of constant evaluation.

hubUK wrote:
This is one area where I am potentially interested in improving as a majority of them require you to be on the slope itself in order to measure the gradient.

As above - yeah potentially an app that could highlight zones to be avoided taking into account gradient, snow pack, current weather conditions would be great but tbh I'm not sure I would wanting to constantly refer to this rather than doing what I do now.

hubUK wrote:
How many people do their own research before venturing out, eg. digging pits in the snow pack or checking previous weather conditions or do you rely solely on reports from the ski resorts themselves on current avalanche conditions.

I rely on reports and my on the ground assessment.

hubUK wrote:
From speaking to numerous guides and mountain experts they all agree that proper getting education is the best thing you can do, how many people have taken part in an avalanche safety course?

Not a safety course as such just stuff picked up from skiing with guides and reading up on the web/books.

hubUK wrote:
Is there anything in particular that you personally look for as a sign of danger and as a clear sign to avoid certain areas?

For me, a lot of assessment is done overnight/start of the day in terms of general conditions, which is then fine tuned with on the ground assessment. Remember that there are other factors affecting safety aside from just avalanches. Visibility is a concern, actual skiing conditions are a concern. I try to build in a natural scepticism and caution without completely killing the fun of skiing. Because I get a buzz out of skiing challenging slopes but don't want to die on them.
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
Powder and a +1
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You know it makes sense.
gravity-slave wrote:
AR avalanche googles - imagine a head up display with data overlayed and a thermal/xray camera so you can slice down into the snowpack and see the layers, substrate and bonding, as well as gradient and temperature, with a safe line highlighted on the screen.

Quite like this idea.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
@hubUK, buy a “Staying alive in the avalanche terrain” book, read it. Not sure a gadget could take into account many considerations that need to be looked at.
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Quote:

This is one area where I am potentially interested in improving as a majority of them require you to be on the slope itself in order to measure the gradient.

You don't have to be on the slope to measure the gradient. Do some research on digital elevation models and the application of GIS to determine slope angles and aspects.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
I'm a technology entrepreneur. I do vaguely remember turning down an early version of Skype though, so make of that what you will. I do not have a dancing pole and I don't give lessons.

Contour lines may well be a more appropriate technology than inclinometers, depending on what you're trying to do.

I want to be sure that all the people I ride with are educated enough to understand what's going on and what to do if I "go down", however that's achieved.

Signs of danger? A snow profile with a known weak layer in a bad place. Wind. Observable slide activity.
Google will throw up many more, which people here will argue over as if they were car tyres or helmets.

----
Heli and cat operators plot the results of multiple systematic pits / metrics taken over time. They have procedure which helps them assess it and select terrain to reduce (but not eliminate) risk. The process works, but it's also handy for explaining to angry rich people why they can't ski the steeps all the time. That approach makes things as safe as money and litigation can make them. You could adopt the same idea and try to build something to allow crowd-sourced sharing of snow pit data. However those visitors would need to be trained in that, or their data would be useless. You'd also need to devise a model which encouraged people to dig a pit whilst other people are ripping the fresh out of it. I can't see that working.

-----
I'm trying to visualize what success would look like, for the suggested "product", rather than the project. A consumer gadget or phone which somehow prevents people riding slopes at high risk of avalanche? A world where people use that and thereby reduce the (rather low) incidence of avalanche (but nor NARSID) deaths?

We know that the nature of slide risk is that you'll "get away with it most of the time". I think that's the most important issue, and why I suspect that the [low] death rate will likely track the numbers of people on back country snow pretty well irrespective of most technology. Stuff like shovels, transceivers and air bags all work because the reduce the objective risk at no significant cost to the users. That is, they don't ever say "you can't go".

I think then that you can't aim for an application which says "you can't go". You could produce some metrics and let the punter determine what to do based on that, which is broadly how an inclinometer is perhaps supposed to be used. That begs the question of which metrics you'd use.

Even so, if every time a slide risk was posted, someone died, those warnings would be very effective. The risk isn't that clear. Why would an application, mobile or otherwise, change that?

--
One toy I'd like is a transceiver which was aware of where all my companions are at all times, including their vital signs. In a slide, it could colour the dead people in red and then triage what's left and compute the optimum sequence to dig them out based on how many of us were still mobile. For that you'd need inbuilt GPS with decent battery life plus some local radio comms for the data sharing. If you think about existing transceiver stuff I'd guess that the main cost is the brand and the mechanics, not particularly what you run on the processor. The market's very slow to evolve though, probably because it's comparatively small and the number of people who are actually in the situation when you could use something like this is relatively few. It's like buying a better fire extinguisher: if you've the money them maybe you'll do it, but most people will never use one (except when drunk).

---

First off, I'd look at the relative risks of this activity in the round. Slide risk is incredibly scary if you see something let rip, but it may well be less than other risks associated with the activity.
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@adithorp, @Mike Pow, let's be charitable and say he got south and west mixed up with north and east. Either way, I'm not going off piste with him.
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@hubUK, local knowledge and/or a guide. Also local radio morning snow reports for wind directions, lee and windward faces etc. Stay off south and west facing in the afternoon (see above). If you or people in your group don't know the area then don't go off piste, no amount of gadgets will keep you safe.
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philwig wrote:

--
One toy I'd like is a transceiver which was aware of where all my companions are at all times, including their vital signs. In a slide, it could colour the dead people in red and then triage what's left and compute the optimum sequence to dig them out based on how many of us were still mobile. For that you'd need inbuilt GPS with decent battery life plus some local radio comms for the data sharing. If you think about existing transceiver stuff I'd guess that the main cost is the brand and the mechanics, not particularly what you run on the processor. The market's very slow to evolve though, probably because it's comparatively small and the number of people who are actually in the situation when you could use something like this is relatively few. It's like buying a better fire extinguisher: if you've the money them maybe you'll do it, but most people will never use one (except when drunk).
.


The sort of situational awareness you are talking about here is like a Blue Force tracker which lots of military forces have developed. They come with a cost and infrastructure that isn't always easily transferabel to the civvie world

Re vital signs, have a look at the latest Barryvox - if worn as advised, its "Vital Data" function can be used to triage those with reduced survival signs
page 55 in the manual below
https://www.facewest.co.uk/content-misc/Barryvox-Info/Barryvox_S_Extended_Reference_Guide_V2.0_EN.pdf

Of course, as the recent tragic avalanche in Solden showed, even transceivers have limits
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Mike Pow wrote:
adithorp wrote:
@Whitegold, how does the sun warm north facing slopes?


My thoughts exactly

Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing

Moreover, the sun doesn't warm the south facing slope and you can ski it any time of the day! Toofy Grin Toofy Grin Toofy Grin

Very Happy Very Happy Very Happy
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
How about a probe that could be inserted into the snowpack and analyses the snow as it passes down to determine layers / temps / whatever.
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Dr John wrote:
local knowledge and/or a guide. Also local radio morning snow reports for wind directions, lee and windward faces etc. Stay off south and west facing in the afternoon (see above). If you or people in your group don't know the area then don't go off piste, no amount of gadgets will keep you safe.

Just what i was going to post snowHead
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https://www.garagegrowngear.com/products/poleclinometer-by-snowander
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Quote:

a jetpack (or personal drone pack) to not just protect but remove you from any danger in the event it goes wrong. Now all the punters have to worry about is keeping the right side up!


I fear I'd find I'd exhausted the jetpack fuel on those boring flat poling runs off the glacier into Zermatt Embarassed
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adithorp wrote:
@Whitegold, how does the sun warm north facing slopes?



Thought everyone on here was an avalanche hero wink

Cold snowpack (North / East) is weaker-layered than warm snowpack (South / West).

Facets, surface hoar, etc.

Sun warms the earth, rock and air.

Earth, rock and air heatup the weaker snowpack.

Weaker-layers "melt" and waterize.

Weaker-layers get weaker.

Weaker-weaker-layers lose grip and slide off.

Only takes a degree or two of indirect sun.

Does not need direct sun.

North slopes heatup, too.

North slopes are not immune to heat.

It is why glaciers melt.

Advice and stats are clear.

Stay away from North or East slopes after midday (Northern Hemisphere).
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@Whitegold, ?!? Wait,what?
Let’s just forget everything we think we know about other influencing factors for a minute.
Using your step by step logic above would you please explain what you think the effect of the direct exposure to solar radiance on a snow pack on an southerly aspect verses the limited temperature gain on an indirect face of a shaded northerly aspect and then conclude which one would be more substantially effected?
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
dazzle109 wrote:
How about a probe that could be inserted into the snowpack and analyses the snow as it passes down to determine layers / temps / whatever.


Like this you mean?: http://about.mountainhub.com/avatech-scope/
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You know it makes sense.
Search drone

http://youtube.com/v/sLEMrATj4-A
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Whitegold wrote:

Stay away from North or East slopes after midday (Northern Hemisphere).


Are you advocating skiing on South and West facing slopes in the afternoon, or not skiing off-piste at all in the afternoon? Asking for a friend (who is a fully qualified instructor and mountain guide).
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
philwig'c comments reminded me how frustrated I am with modern, digital transceivers which seem to be concerned with interpretting the available information and presenting edited highlights to the operator. I imagine this is the outcome of inside-out thinking from engineers wanting to control everything. I'd much prefer something much more analogue that displayed everything that it could see in a clear and unambiguous fashion.

I've several ideas on how this might be done but there are strict constraints to work around:
https://www.etsi.org/deliver/etsi_en/300700_300799/30071801/02.01.00_20/en_30071801v020100a.pdf
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