Pulling Slope Angles

| January 29, 2010

Inclinometers are used in aircraft to show magnetic dip or the angle from the horizon.
Clinometers are used by surveyors in order to measure an angle of inclination or elevation.
Goniometers are instruments that either measures angle or allows an object to be rotated to a precise angular position.

Regardless of what you use or what you call it, being able to measure slope angles is one of the best avalanche defenses available.  I’ve been skiing around for the last week in considerable, high and even extreme avalanche conditions without seeing or triggering any slides as I’ve been keeping my angles loooooow.  Like in the 20-30 degree range at the most.

For years my goniometer (I usually call it an inclinometer) of choice has been the classic Life-Link plastic card with a dingle-bob on it.  After a few seasons, the plastic breaks and you are left with a shard of plastic and a stuck dingle-bob.  Still, they were kind of cheap, lightweight and compact enough that you could whip it out, pull an angle and get on with life. With this in mind, I was overjoyed at the recent Outdoor Retail Show to see that Pieps had come out with a bitchin’ new digital unit that mounts to your pole and also includes a thermometer.

Called the Goniometer PIEPS 30 Degrees Plus, this unit velcros to your pole shaft and is activated by pushing a button, which turns it on for 10 seconds.  The thing I really like about this is that it is always there and ready to go, so you take more measurements.  The more measurements you take, the better you get at reading slope angles.  The better you get at reading slope angles, the easier it is to make quick slope assessments.

I got a laugh out of the instructions (which I read this time) as they suggested you make a game out of taking angles by having everyone guess before you take the measurement.    I like doing this as it makes you realize if you are consistently over or under estimating angles, or in George W’s case, misunderestimating them.  Guessing slope angles reminds me of mechanics who can tell a bolt size from across the room with a quick glance – it’s not so much magic as repetition and familiarity.

Polly pulls an angle.

Polly pulls an angle with the Pieps 30 Degrees Plus.

At $100, this little Pieps ain’t cheaps, but it is by far and away the best unit out there and fun to use.  You can get angles by setting the pole on the snow, sighting down the pole shaft from the top of a slope, or lining the pole up with a slope’s skyline profile.

Help support StraightChuter.com and strap your Pieps 30 Degrees Plus to a pair of Black Diamond Carbon Probe Ski Poles from Backcountry.com. Click on the photo below…


Category: Gear Reviews

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 (19)

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  1. Clyde says:

    There’s a free app for that. At least on my Droid, probably for iPhones too. A $100 for the Pieps? That’s crazy talk.

  2. Peter says:

    looks cool.
    as a product tester we expect you to take several good beater-crashes and tell us how many tomahawks it takes to rip this thing off.

    can it survive life bashing around in the Thule box?

  3. Jim R. says:

    I like the idea of having something easy to use right there on your pole that gives you a reading with the push of a button. Instead of measuring just a couple of slopes a day, you could use this all the time. But I too think the price is way too high. Something like this should cost only $40-$50. Will these be available for sale in the fall?

  4. Andy says:

    Hey Andrew,

    Since dangerous slabs can slide even in the 20-30 degree range (if rarely), can you talk a little about what else you look for on these low-angle slopes to feel confident skiing during periods of high or extreme avy danger?

  5. d3 says:

    i like how you (unintentionally) mix in what sounds like porn and politics in your info dissemination.

    careful out there–zoiks!

  6. Andrew says:

    D3 – I’m merely engaging in social intercourse to further my slope reading agenda. Nothing more. ;)

  7. Andrew says:

    Clyde – the goniometer is only $9.95, but the thermometer and velcro straps adds the other $90.

    Okay, not really, and I agree that if this thing was 1/5th the price it would be standard equipment in almost everyone’s kit. Maybe someday it will be.

  8. Colin in CA says:

    Yeah, I might be willing to pay $40-50, but not $100.

    My Ranger CL works fine for now.

  9. Tim says:

    Haha came here to comment that this thing is awesome but over priced. Apparently everyone feels that way. :)

  10. TC says:

    Peter makes a good point, definitely let us know how this puppy sustains transport abuse.

  11. Bob says:

    Oh dear gawd, that got my gear gland throbbing SO hard. Hmm, pro form…?

  12. ptor says:

    Could such a device divert a guy’s attention from the angle of his gonad-ometer?

  13. ptor says:

    When she showed me her secret chute, I pulled a serious angle!

  14. Justin says:

    I skied today with a friend who has one, pretty cool really. It seems to work really well, and its so convenient you actually use it. I agree that it is a bit spendy, but I think this is one tech geek item that is actually pretty useful.

  15. Pricey, yes, but a built-in GPS takes into account your location and then adjusts the degrees according to . . .


    Andrew McLean’s Steep-Speak International Translations:

    Subtract 5 degrees & 1/3 of the stated vertical, e.g. 1000 meters of 50 degrees = 660m of 45 degrees.

    Alaska Heliskiing:
    Subtract 20 degrees and cut the vertical in half, e.g., FIVE THOUSAND FUGGIN’ FEET OF 60 DEGREES (Dude!) = 2,500′ of 40 degrees.

    Montana & Washington:
    Accept at stated values.

    Subtract 10 degrees, nip the vert by 1/4 and double the width of any stated couloir.

    There is no steep skiing in Oregon.
    [jss note: I suspect this reflects the lower half of the state’s sharp divide between low-angle clearcuts with tele skiers falling all over the place and super-gnar technical ski mountaineering routes, with not much in between]

    The East Coast:
    Overstated stats, but the conditions justify it. Accept at stated value.

    Whatever Lou said it was.

    I’ll take the 5th on that.

    Cut stated angles and length in half.

  16. ffelix says:

    LOL on the state slope adjustments!

    I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, it’s a really cool device that cheaper & lighter than a real sighting inclinometer.

    On the other hand, I pity the forecasters who now have to deal with EVEN MORE morons who ski 37-degree slopes when the hazard is high on 38-degree slopes, get buried, then whine that the forecast was faulty :|

  17. Caleb says:

    I want one, if it’s free. 100 bones is a lot since my BCA cost next to nothing. Thanks for bringing it to my attention Andrew. The thermometer is pretty cool. How accurate do you think it is?

  18. Ski wrangells says:

    poles are for norons!

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