Know Before You Go: Snowpack Analysis & Forecasting

With the massive dump that Washington’s Cascade range is currently receiving, many locals are excitedly heading upwards in hopes of claiming some fresh tracks. wants to remind everyone that skiing or riding out of bounds during extreme avalanche conditions is extremely dangerous, and should always be done with at least one partner and always with proper gear (beacon, shovel, probe, pack, water, emergency kit). The more prepared you are for a date with mother nature, the more likely you will return home safely. To check out your options for gear, head to’s new backcountry shop and take some advice from the experts.











A great first step for any advanced skier or boarder who wishes to avoid crowded lift lines is an avalanche awareness class. Many are offered throughout the course of the winter, with different levels of certification available for those who wish to dedicate themselves to learning all aspects of backcountry riding. Upcoming classes can be found in the Spokane AreaOlympiaBellingham and of course the greater Seattle area. While backcountry riding is dangerous, urges you to remember that riding inbounds requires caution and smart thinking as well. Simple concepts can help your fellow rider stay safe. Watch below you when traversing and make sure not to slab snow onto downhill riders. Keep a solid distance between the rider in front of you to avoid collisions. Most importantly – know your limits!

Plenty of websites are dedicated to informing skiers of the current snow levels, avalanche danger, forecasts and weather concerns at each of Washington’s resorts. The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center is perhaps the most detailed in terms of snowpack analysis and forecasting, though we love the visuals and play by play forecast at as well. For the intellect who seeks a more technical analysis of the forecast, the UW MM5 Atmospheric Weather Center can be quite tantalizing. Naturally, we rely on Larry to provide detailed weather updates as he’s been doing for years! The NWAC’s analysis of the current snowpack in the Cascades is below…

“Large amounts of gradually increasing density snow have been deposited over very low density snow received last weekend, with much of this very fragile snow weakly bonded to a variety of older snow surfaces…most notably a smooth and relatively hard rain crust but also including some faceted and recycled near surface snow as well as areas of surface hoar. With early morning field reports indicating more cohesive surface snow and avalanches much more responsive to artificial triggers, this weather is rapidly increasing the potential for both human and natural avalanche activity. Morning avalanche control from Alpental indicates that 18 inch soft slabs are easy to trigger by either ski or explosive, with resultant avalanches stepping down to deeper layers near the old crust as they descend.

With new snowfall amounts since Saturday ranging from around 20 inches to over 36 inches, increasingly unstable wind slabs depths over the old snow surfaces prevalent last week may range up to 3 to 5 feet or more on higher elevation lee terrain, and back country travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended. While human triggered slabs should be most likely on steeper wind loaded slopes, increasing cohesion within the most recently deposited snow  combined very fragile snow layers weakly bonded to the old snow surfaces should allow for increasingly sensitive avalanche conditions to develop on a variety of differing exposures Tuesday, along with an increasing potential for remote triggering as well as sympathetic slides releasing from adjacent terrain.

With periods of heavy snow loading…heaviest in the south and central, strong winds and very slow warming likely over the next 48 hours, this almost perfect storm of avalanche condtions should create increasingly large and very dangerous avalanches in many areas.”