Avalanche Science Project

| January 29, 2013 | 8 Comments

I’ve always wanted an excuse to make an avalanche board, and my daughter’s recent school Science Fair seemed like a perfect opportunity to try it out. Avalanche boards are pretty cool as they can show all of the elements of an avalanche (layers, triggers, slope angle, terrain) in a confined space and time, plus you get the added drama of wiping out plastic farm animals.

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Mira setting up the lambs, pigs and goats for the slaughter.

This was the first avalanche board I’d ever built, and if I was to do it again  (unlikely), I’d make it smaller as it would take less material to create the avalanche, and more importantly, would be easier to clean up afterwards.  I think mine was about 20 x 20 inches, but something as small as 12 x 12 inches would probably work as well.

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Tip it up to 38 degrees and see what happens…
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Mass carnage!  The blue bunny survived, but the pigs were not so lucky.
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A semi realistic crown line just below the trees and rocks.
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Proud avalancheurs, Mira and Gabby.

The concept is fairly simple – you create a little diorama with rocks and trees, then load it up with various layers, tip it up to 38 degrees and if it doesn’t avalanche naturally, give it a little trigger or thump and it should all come down.  Since this was for a kindergarten class, I chose the most basic of avalanche recipes, the Colorado Depth Hoar Delight.  This involves creating a stout layer of depth hoar (road salt), adding a touch of weak yellow snow for effect (corn meal), then loading it up with a big dump of powder (flour).  You could get all sorts of fancy if you wanted to, but this is a good one to teach the basics – what is an avalanche, what angle they are most likely to occur at, what the consequences are and the underlying theory (strong snow over weak snow).

A 3:46 minute video of the board in action.  The high pitched squeaky noise and frantic action is about normal for life with 3 & 5 year-old daughters.

For five year-old Mira’s science fair, this counted as a “model with over 70% parental supervision.” In reality, it was more like 95% supervision, or as my wife likes to say to me, “Honey, I so proud of you winning a kindergarten science fair!” In retrospect, the concepts are more advanced than I might have realized, but it was fun to spread the ingredients around and the kids learned some basic avalanche terminology and concepts.

Volcanoes were specifically prohibited from the Science Fair, and given how messy this project was, avalanches may not be far behind.

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Category: 07 Avalanche Avoidance, Avalanche, Projects

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

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  1. Avalanche Science Project | StraightChuter.com - Mymsn5 Today | January 30, 2013
  1. Diana L says:

    Best dad ever!

  2. Eric says:

    Love it. i might use this to teach my clients about basic avy stuff.

  3. Kikkert says:

    Just picked up a board last night for a presentation…but hadn’t thought of the farm animals…good stuff.

  4. El Rollo says:

    Maybe you could team up with this guy for a really memorable science project. Would cocaine be weak layer or a slab? http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/science-fair-cocaine-drug-sniffing-dog-141435818.html

  5. Tania says:

    Brilliant! I’m off to have a go with my boys……

  6. diane maggipinto, voiceover says:

    i imagine those farm animals said their flour and cornmeal is better than utah’s. :)

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