Good Snow Hunting – Angle

| April 9, 2009 | 3 Comments
After forming a thesis on what kind of snow should be best for the given day and then deciding which aspect might have it, the next consideration is what slope angle to look for.  Choosing the right slope angle is often a trade-off between optimum snow quality and safety.  Steep, north facing slopes might have the best snow… but are also the most avalanche prone. There is a time and place for everything.  One of the trickiest situations with slope angle is after a big dump of snow when the lower angles aren’t steep enough to gain any speed on, yet the moderate angles may be avalanche prone.  In times like these, a few degrees one way or the other can make the difference between moving at all and triggering an avalanche.

Slope angle is a basic consideration that can be easy to overlook.  If you have an appetite for the steeps, low-angle meadow skipping may not even be on your radar, yet have the best snow quality. 

What angle to look for and when:

Lower Angle
–  Dust on crust when you want to float on the surface. Light edging means that you won’t punch through the soft upper snow and bottom out on the hardpack below.
–  Hard or icy conditions – less risk of long, sliding falls
–  During periods of higher avalanche danger lower angle slopes will generally be safer
–  Crusty snow can be hit or miss.  Like dust on crust, if it is barely supportable, less edging pressure means you can float on low angle crust instead of punching through on steeper slopes.

There's a time and place for everything, even meadow skipping.  Lou Dawson staying on top of some dust on crust.

There's a time and place for everything - even meadow skipping. Lou Dawson staying on top of some dust on crust.

Moderate Angle
–  During times of elevated avalanche danger
–  Classic shots & long tours
–  All around powder skiing

Carl Skoog tracking up some stable, moderate angle powder.

Steep
–  Corn snow
–  Edgeable windboard
–  Recrystalized powder – dreamy beyond words
–  Low avalanche danger
–  Steep is fun and sexy, but it takes timing.

Steep skiing is all about timing. Save up a hit list and get it while you can. When you can't, relax and ski something else. Petra sliding into the lower entrance on the Pfieff.

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Category: Tips & Technique

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.

Comments (3)

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  1. mark says:

    I was thinking we’d have to put this good snow hunting segment to practice right away, but then the Wasatch received yet another storm last night. This morning’s turns were nice, though we did have a lot of sluffage above 9000 feet, and below 8000 the snow was thinner and heavier. Not complaining, though. It’s April, after all.

  2. Andrew says:

    Hi Mark – yeah, finding good snow right now is about as hard as shooting fish in a barrel. :) Yippy!

  3. Shawn Carter says:

    A.M.

    You missed one of my all time favorites. When the range is covered in breakable crust we often ski slopes in excess of 50 degrees. Really steep terrain is super easy to ski with these conditions. For one thing, if you fall its not slide for life. As an additional bonus, the extra oooomph of gravity pulls the descender right through the crust as if it isn’t even there. Try it some time. Ooooops probably ought not of open my trap but what the hell I am getting old and the go getters could use a little reinforcements.

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