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UD 6-81-8 E


English edition
ABOUT UD 6-81-8 E
VALIDITY: 2011-01-02
LEGAL AUTHORITY: Letter from the Inspector General of the
Army - Delegation of authority.
Commander of the Norwegian School
of Winter Warfare
VALID FOR: Royal Norwegian Armed Forces
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UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness

UD 6-81-8 E
Instruction in Winter Service
Snow Awareness

Stipulated by the Norwegian School of Winter Warfare UD 6-81-8 : Instruction in Winter
Snow awareness for the benefit of the Norwegian Armed Forces

Bardufoss, 2011-01-02

Per Sverre Opedal
Major General
Inspector General of the Norwegian Army

Harald stbye
Lieutenant Colonel
Commander of the
Norwegian School of
Winter Warfare
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Table of Content
Chapter 2: BACKGROUND 2
Chapter 4: SNOW
Chapter 7:

From pt
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Table of Content
The avalanche area
The release area......................................................................................... 3.1.1
Avalanche path and runout area............................................................. 3.1.2
Terrain formations
Avalanche frequency in diverse terrain formations............................... 3.3.1
The range of an avalanche
A simple method to determine the range of an avalanche in the
The Norwegian Geotechnical Institutes topographic model................ 3.4.2
Chapter 4. SNOW
Snow in the atmosphere
The snowpack
Grain types, dimensions and characteristics.......................................... 4.2.1
Mechanical decomposition ...................................................................... 4.2.2
Transformation of snow Destructive transformation (destructive
Snow transformation Sintering............................................................. 4.2.4
Transformation of snow Constructive transformation
(constructive metamorphosis)..................................................................
Other types of grains and crystals........................................................... 4.2.6
Wet snow, melting transformation (melting metamorphosis).............. 4.2.7
Subsidence in the snowpack, the snowpack in steep terrain................. 4.2.8
Weather that increases avalanche risk
Snowfall and wind..................................................................................... 4.3.1
Rain............................................................................................................. 4.3.2
Temperature of the snowpack.................................................................. 4.3.3
Solar heating.............................................................................................. 4.3.4
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Avalanche types
Loose snow avalanche............................................................................... 5.1.1
Slab avalanche........................................................................................... 5.1.2
Slush avalanche......................................................................................... 5.1.3
Forces that influence an avalanche
An avalanche in motion
Snow profile
Weak and unstable layers in the snowpack............................................ 6.1.1
Snow profile form...................................................................................... 6.1.2
Classification of snow types...................................................................... 6.1.3
Grain types................................................................................................. 6.1.4
Grain transformation schematic.............................................................. 6.1.5
Fracture surface quality........................................................................... 6.1.6
Shovel test
Compression test
Extended compression test
Rutsch block
Validity of stability tests
Use of explosives
Fracture line inspection
Free moisture content in the snowpack
Temperature in snow layers/temperature gradient
Competence level and equipment
Route planning in connection with field surveys
Terrain traps.............................................................................................. 7.1.1
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Factors to be assessed
The military avalanche risk scale
Avalanche forecast
Forecasting errors..................................................................................... 8.4.1
Avalanche maps
Division of the avalanche map into zones................................................ 8.5.1
Limitations of the avalanche map............................................................ 8.5.2
Using the avalanche map.......................................................................... 8.5.3
Establishing an avalanche group
Organisation of an avalanche group........................................................ 8.6.1
Duties and responsibilities of an avalanche group................................. 8.6.2
Avalanche group equipment and materiel.............................................. 8.6.3
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
1.1 Preface
These regulations have been prepared by the Norwegian School of Winter Warfare
in collaboration with the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute and the emergency
service/mountain rescue service of the Norwegian Red Cross.
The object of this publication is to increase an officers understanding and
knowledge of snow, the snowpack and avalanche risk in order to determine, to the
best of his/her ability, the avalanche hazard and also select a safe marching route.
This publication should also support an officers theoretical knowledge of snow and
avalanches. It should, however, be emphasised that a comprehensive understanding
of the respective subjects may only be achieved through regular practice and
This publication is especially directed at officers who have gained a practical level of
experience. This particularly applies to instructors in individual units who are
responsible for winter training, staff officers with planning responsibility for winter
training, as well as participants in avalanche groups.
1.2 Application
These instructions apply to the entire Norwegian Armed Forces.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
2.1 Introduction
The Norwegian Armed Forces should be capable of engaging in combat in every
type of condition in Norwegian topography. This requires our divisions to be able to
operate in demanding terrain under the most challenging weather conditions to be
found in Norway. Nonetheless, safety and the selection of a safe marching route
remain important factors during both war and peacetime. Proper routines must be
established through knowledge and training so that the selection of a safe marching
route becomes second nature to the individual officer and soldier.
In everyday life we readily accept a whole range of safety measures such as seat
belts, bicycle helmets and speed limits on roads, for example. In terms of recreation,
it would appear that, in an avalanche context, neither research, forecasts or the
closing of trails, undertaken by professionals, have made any impact at all. In this
respect the Norwegian Armed Forces has a vital role to play in ensuring that its
soldiers become familiar with winter conditions and gain insight into the selection of
safe marching routes.
Each year an average of 5 people lose their lives in avalanches in Norway. In recent
years the number of skiers killed in avalanches has increased. If a person is
completely buried in snow, the likelihood of survival diminishes rapidly with time
and statistics would suggest that only 1 in 10 avalanche victims would still be alive
after 3 hours.
Every year an average of 5 Norwegians loose their lives in
In order to prevent future accidents from occurring it is vital to increase the
individuals knowledge regarding the significant factors relating to avalanche risk.
These three factors are:
- Snow
- Weather
- Terrain
The first part of this publication will examine these three factors individually.
Following this, the interaction and significance of the three factors will be described
in greater detail.
The final and possibly most important factor in the triangle are people, and our
perception of the situation (figure 2.1). The human factor concerns our knowledge,
experience, perception, subjective interpretation, evaluation, peer pressure, etc. The
human factor will be discussed in several places as it touches upon many of the
relevant subjects in this publication.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 2.1
The four avalanche factors
2.2 History
Every winter major or minor accidents occur as a consequence of avalanches. On
average a winter of avalanches takes place every 13 years in Norway with a total of
10-20 fatalities both civilian and military. Since 1986 the Norwegian Armed Forces
has lost 18 soldiers in avalanche accidents. The most significant accident in a
military context occurred on Wednesday 5th March 1986 in Vassdalen during the
Anchor Express Exercise. A few minutes after 13.00 hours an avalanche swept down
the Storebalak mountain into Vassdalen.
The avalanche struck 31 men from the North Norway Brigade while they were in the
process of ascending the mountain in snowmobiles along a stream valley on the
north side of Storebalak. All personnel were struck by the avalanche and buried to a
greater or lesser extent. 15 men survived while a further 16 men perished. The large
amount of snow and wind in the week prior to the accident led to circumstances that
were exceptionally unfavourable in terms of avalanche risk. The avalanche took the
division completely by surprise. Nobody had noticed either subsidence in the snow,
local slippages or other signs of movement before they were struck to the ground.
Yet there were many old avalanche channels along the trail and there had recently
been several avalanches in the area.
On Thursday 6th February 1992 at around 06.05 hours an avalanche occurred on a
small mountain slope in the Bjrnevatn-Hovden area of Setesdalen. Two cadets from
Gimlemoen Army War College were struck by the avalanche during a ski march in
darkness and poor visibility.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Both cadets were buried in the avalanche although one of them was only partially
buried and managed to break free from the snow. The terrain at the accident site had
been assessed as an avalanche risk on the previous day and it was determined that
personnel should not enter the area. However, in darkness and poor visibility the
cadets made an error and entered the very area they had previously assessed as
posing an avalanche risk. It had also been extremely windy and had snowed in the
days prior to the accident. The avalanche victim was found after around 45 minutes
in a primary search field in which assisted rescue with ski poles was carried out. The
ski pole was barely long enough to reach the avalanche victim. CPR was performed
at once as soon as the victim had been dug out and this continued until a doctor
arrived at the scene of the accident at 08.15 hours and declared the patient dead, 2
hours and 10 minutes after the avalanche had occurred.
In March 1994, 17 Home Guard soldiers were completely buried when an avalanche
struck their bivouac area in Tussagjelet near Kvamskogen in the county of
Hordaland. The bivouac was located deep inside a gorge and during the course of the
night a large amount of snow accumulated due to both strong winds and
precipitation, which eventually turned into rain.
The avalanche was presumably triggered naturally and resulted in the soldiers being
buried in their tents. Fortunately, some personnel had not been buried and they were
able to dig out those who had been struck by the avalanche. One soldier perished.
The sentry post at the base had been struck by an avalanche 3 hours prior to the main
avalanche occurring. However, nobody had fully understood the danger.
Following the accident parts of the division were hit by a subsequent avalanche on
their way out of the area along a marching route that had been assessed as safe.
According to the rescue parties and the police who were present at the scene it was a
miracle that further lives had not been lost that evening/night.
These are 3 examples from recent times of avalanche accidents that have resulted in
fatalities in the Norwegian Armed Forces. In addition to these accidents there have
been several near misses. Following the Vassdal accident major emphasis has been
placed on avalanche training and choice of safe marching routes. This publication
will also contribute to ensuring that the Norwegian Armed Forces will maintain its
positive statistics following the Kvamskogen accident, i.e. no avalanche accidents
resulting in any loss of life.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
The majority of avalanches that could pose a threat to military units are those that
occur in small terrain formations in which the height difference is less than 50
metres. The threat of major avalanches such as we are used to seeing in films and on
television is regarded as minor as far as military units are concerned because military
units do not operate in this type of terrain. However, large formations can represent a
potential threat to roads, terrain axes such as Vassdalen, bivouac areas and military
installations situated in valley bottoms. There are particular grounds to warn against
stream gorges and smaller leeward slopes that units may seek out in order to gain
shelter from inclement weather and wind, or to conceal themselves.
3.1 The avalanche area
The avalanche area is divided into:
- The release area
- The avalanche path
- The runout area
Figure: 3.1
The avalanche area
The figure shows a schematic representation of an avalanche area with the release
area at the very top and the avalanche path and runout area at the bottom towards
the more level areas where the avalanche comes to a halt.
With small avalanches the release area and the runout area often overlap, while in
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
major avalanches that cover most of a mountainside there can be a long section
(avalanche path) that the avalanche passes through between the release area and
runout area.
Smaller terrain formations with height differences from 5
metres to 50 metres are regarded as the greatest threat to
military units.
3.1.1 The release area
The release area is where the avalanche is triggered. The upper edge of the release
area is limited by the avalanche fracture line and the lower limit is the lower part of
the slab that slides out. Laterally, the release area is demarcated by the remaining
untouched snowpack.
All inclines on a mountainside with a steepness of between 30 and 60 may be re-
lease areas for larger slab avalanches, providing there is sufficient snow present and
no dense forestation.
Slab avalanches, which are regarded as the most dangerous type of avalanche, are
very seldom triggered when the slope of the slip plane is less than 30. If it is ex-
tremely steep the snow will not attach itself but will gradually slide away as it accu-
mulates. Thus, it is estimated that terrain steeper than 60 would not be a source of
major avalanches. When the slope reduces to 30, a significant amount of snow must
be present before an avalanche is triggered because the anchoring forces are general-
ly sufficient to keep the snow in place. If the slope reaches a steepness of 60 then
less snow is required to trigger an avalanche. Such avalanches therefore occur more
often, but are smaller.
Because snow accumulates unevenly on the slope it may accumulate in such a way
that the snow surface is steeper than it appears in the terrain information on a map.
Studies that have taken place in Norway of around 500 major avalanches have indi-
cated that the majority of avalanches are triggered on a terrain gradient of between
35 and 50. The studies apply to naturally released avalanches, i.e. avalanches
triggered as a consequence of weather conditions or due to changes in the compact-
ness of the snowpack, and which have not been triggered by any other external
factors. Surveys of a number of avalanches triggered by skiers indicate that the lower
limit for the triggering of a slab avalanche is around 30.
!Military units should not move in terrain that is steeper than
30 degrees.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 3.2
Avalanche frequency in relation to the terrain gradient for major, naturally released
3.1.2 Avalanche path and runout area
Avalanches usually start in hollows on the mountainside due to the fact that more
snow accumulates here. When the avalanche is in motion it will seek the lowest
point, or the path of least resistance. To a great extent a descending avalanche moves
like a river. Prominent ridges and knolls tend to steer the avalanche and will thus de-
termine the avalanche path. If the snow is dry and the avalanche is moving rapidly
the snow mass can still pass over such ridges, even if they are 20-30 metres high.
The greater the speed and volume of the avalanche, the greater its capacity to move
in a straight line, i.e. in the direction of the general path of the mountainside or slope.
Usually a dry avalanche will begin to slow down when the slope of the terrain redu-
ces to 15-20. Major, dry avalanches can extend far across level ground and cross
valleys that are several hundred metres wide while smaller avalanches will stop on or
close to the slope where they were triggered. This also applies when the snow is
damp or wet, mainly because a smaller snow mass is being carried down the avalan-
che path. An exception to this is a so-called slush avalanche, which contains such a
high volume of water that the avalanche virtually flows like a river.
It should be noted that the angle of the gradient in the snow
may be steeper than specified on the map due to snow
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 3.3
The slope of the snow surface (blue colour) in relation to the terrain (light colour)
and in relation to contour lines on the map (red circles and dotted line)
3.2 Exposure
The extent to which the slope is exposed to wind and thus to the accumulation of
wind-transported snow must be taken into account when terrain is being assessed for
avalanche risk. Slopes and mountainsides that are sheltered from the normal
precipitation-leading wind directions, i.e. wind that causes the accumulation of
drifting snow, will be most vulnerable to avalanches. Even though precipitation in
North Norway is brought on by wind from the west or northwest, it is the high
pressure conditions that most often result in powerful offshore winds and the
transport of drifting snow onto west and north facing mountainsides. This applies to
the counties of Nordland, Troms and Finnmark but it is worth noting that in the
coastal areas powerful winds, in conjunction with low pressure from the west and
northwest, will result in snow accumulation on east and southeast facing
mountainsides and offshore winds will be responsible for less snow transport.
Western Norway is the most complicated part of the country in respect of prevailing
winds. Local conditions, valleys and fjords are determining factors here. Most snow
showers are brought on by southwest to north westerly strong winds, which will
result in northeast to southeast facing leeward sides. However, Western Norway can
also have prolonged cold winds from the east that result in snow accumulation on
west facing leeward sides!
East of the watershed in Southern Norway, a significant amount of precipitation and
wind is brought on by low pressure systems coming in from the southeast, although
wind direction is often more from the southwest. This means that in areas with less
snow, from the Swedish border to the Dovrefjell Mountains, most snow will usually
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
be present on western and north-western mountainsides. For the most part snow
transport will not extend beyond the low pressure period. In Jotunheimen and more
central regions of Eastern Norway, the strong, cold winds that come from the west
and northwest will be conducive to snow transport, which results in leeward sides
being exposed towards the south and southeast.
Nonetheless, in respect of wind directions and snowdrifts it is worth noting local
variations in the area in which the unit is undertaking exercises.
3.3 Terrain formations
In addition to the terrain gradient, the terrains actual shape is of great significance to
how an avalanche is triggered from a mountainside. The greatest risk of an avalanche
occurring is at locations on the leeward side of the wind. This is where most snow
accumulates and the possibility of an avalanche occurring increases with the
accumulation of snow. Thus, the risk of triggering an avalanche is greater in hollows
and bowl-shaped areas than in knolls and on mountain ridges where snow is usually
blown away. The most common sheltered areas on a mountainside are stream
valleys, bowl-shaped hollows of varying size, ravines and prominent passes.
Glacial cirques, i.e. places where there are, or where there have previously been
glaciers, are also typical release areas for major avalanches. A significant amount of
snow may also accumulate where there is a marked transition from a precipice to a
less steep area below, e.g. scree. Bare rock-faces and level grass-grown surfaces that
are steep enough are often the source of avalanches, especially during the
post-winter period when sunshine or rain make the snow wet throughout so that it is
more easily deformed (becomes more pliable) resulting in melt water forming along
the ground, reducing friction. Where the terrain becomes steeper down the slope
(convex areas) tensile stress is created in the snow. This equally applies just below
locations where the snowpack is well anchored in larger rocks or knolls. In such
tensile zones it is much easier for an avalanche to be triggered.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 3.4
Leeward side with snow accumulation areas
On a mountainside the depth of the snow may vary from snow that has been
completely blown away to snow that is several metres deep. The uppermost part of a
fracture line is often in the upper part of hollows in which the depth of the snow is
less and the snowpack is weaker.
In the sections of a mountainside in which there is a significant difference in snow
depth, e.g. as a result of large blocks of rock, the weakest snow will often be where
the snowpack is thinnest (index 4.2.5). The weaker snow and shorter distance to
weak layers poses the greatest risk of triggering slab avalanches in such areas.
3.3.1 Avalanche frequency in diverse terrain formations
According to a survey of around 250 avalanche zones in Western Norway, types of
terrain in avalanche release areas are divided according to avalanche frequency as
Shape of terrain Distribution of avalanche frequency in
Open hollows, stream valleys 29
Deep passes, gorges 27
Convex areas 12
Bare rock-faces 12
Glacial cirques 10
Beneath anchoring zones 10
Table 3.1 Avalanche frequency divided by types of terrain
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
The table shows the distribution of avalanches in diverse terrain formations.
As shown in the table, around 60% of avalanches occur in glacial cirques, passes,
gorges and bowl-shaped areas. It is in such areas that wind blows the snow and little
or no snow is transported away. It is often such terrain formations that are the star-
ting points for large and very large avalanches. However, attention should be paid to
protruding ridges and knolls if they are covered in snow as avalanches can also be
triggered here, particularly during snowfall with little wind. It is precisely in the tran-
sition from a thin snowpack or areas without snow, to hollows that have a significant
presence of snow, that there is great tension and weak bonding that may easily result
in a fracture.
When there is a plateau on top of a mountain, a significant amount of snow from the
plateau may be driven onto the leeward side of the mountain. The risk of an avalan-
che on such a mountainside is greater than when the peak of the mountain is shaped
like a sharp ridge.
The height of a steep slope need not be significant before avalanches become hazar-
dous. Skiers have lost their lives on slopes where the height difference has been
between 5 and 10 metres. The majority of fatal accidents caused by avalanches have
occurred on slopes that are 20-40 metres high. As a rule of thumb, military personnel
should not dig themselves in or seek shelter on a leeward slope that is higher than 5
metres. If the leeward slope is higher than 5 metres it also poses a threat to units on
skis or on foot. It is easy to seek shelter in a stream valley during demanding weather
conditions but it is also in such areas that slab avalanches first occur.
Figure: 3.5
Avalanches in stream valleys
!Military personnel should not dig themselves in or seek
shelter on leeward slopes that are more than 5 metres high.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
3.4 The range of an avalanche
The table below indicates how the range of an avalanche specified in degrees (angle
A) is distributed in percentages in relation to the frequency of avalanches. Angle A
represents the angle of the outermost accumulation of the avalanche runout to the
avalanche fracture line. The distance an avalanche will travel is determined by
several factors. A clear indication that an avalanche will travel a long way is a
significant presence of snow in the release area (large starting volume) and in the
avalanche path (large snow mass movement), in addition to the snowpack being dry,
not wet. Wet avalanches (with the exception of slush avalanches) will have a shorter
path and range than dry avalanches.
Angle (A) range Avalanche frequency
20 degrees or less 2 %
21-25 degrees 12 %
26-30 degrees 24 %
31-35 degrees 27 %
36-40 degrees 22 %
Greater than 41 degrees 13 %
Table 3.2 The range and frequency of avalanches
The frequency of avalanches in relation to the runout angle.
Usually the angle (A) is a little over 30. In less steep
avalanche paths with an even transition to the valley bottom,
this angle may decrease to around 20 in optimal avalanche
3.4.1 A simple method to determine the range of an avalanche in the field
One method is based upon the horizontal distance from the avalanche release area.
This method is referred to as the 20 degree rule, i.e. when the line of sight from a
position at the bottom of a valley to an imagined avalanche crown on the mountainsi-
de is 20 degrees, the avalanche will very rarely extend this far. For safetys sake the
line of sight should form an angle of 20 degrees or less, at a ratio of 1:3.
Thus, a rough estimate of the range of the avalanche (L) is the vertical drop (H) mul-
tiplied by a factor of 3.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 3.6
3 x H rule, or 20 degree rule
Field rule: The maximum height of fall extending three times out from the
mountainside gives the maximum path of a major avalanche (in effect, 18.3 degrees).
3.4.2 The Norwegian Geotechnical Institutes topographic model
For many years the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI) has mapped and registe-
red several hundred major avalanches in Norway. Through studying these avalan-
ches the NGI has developed a topographic model that forms the basis of the Norwe-
gian Armed Forces avalanche map production.
It has been shown that the maximum range of an avalanche is determined by the ste-
epness and shape of the mountainside. The steepness is defined by a line of sight that
links the point in the slope where the terrain gradient is l0 with the top of the release
area. The angle of the terrain along this line is described as B (refer to figure bel-
It is possible to determine this 10 degree point according to the distance between the
contour lines on a map. On the M711 map on which the scale is 1:50000 and the
equidistance is 20 metres, a 10 terrain gradient equates to a distance of 2.3 mm
between the contour lines. ((20m/tan10)/50m=2.2685 mm) The 10 degree point is
placed on the uppermost of the contour lines between which the 2.3 mm distance has
been measured. A simple relationship has been identified between the maximum ran-
ge of an avalanche (angle A) and the steepness of the avalanche path (angle B):
A=0.96 x B (1.4+SD), SD=2.3 and the correlation coefficient, R=0.92.
With this equation it is possible to determine the estimated range of a major avalan-
che (angle A). The map is consulted, the 10 point is found and angle B is calculated.
The angles degree number is then entered into the equation and angle A is calcu-
lated. Finally, the height difference H between the release area and the valley bottom
is found and the range L of the avalanche is estimated (fig. 3.7). L=H/tgA
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 3.7
The Norwegian Geotechnical Institutes topographic model
Another method that may be applied to the map (M711) is to identify the 10 degree
point. The height of fall from the highest possible fracture line to the 10 degree point
is deduced from the map, then half of the height of fall is added to the 10 degree
point, horizontally. The point obtained will be the maximum an avalanche is able to
move. This is how an avalanche map may be made on an ordinary M711 map if an
avalanche map is not available. This method is stricter than the 20 degree rule and
will be well within the NGIs topographic model.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
4.1 Snow in the atmosphere
Precipitation is usually caused by air being forced to rise and cool so that water
vapour condenses. Warm air can contain a relatively high amount of water vapour
but when the air cools its capacity to retain water vapour diminishes. When air cools,
the relative humidity increases until the air is saturated with water vapour. With
continuous cooling, air becomes supersaturated and water vapour condenses into
small droplets of water and ice particles.
The temperature that air must cool down to before condensation occurs is called the
dew point. Air temperature and moisture content determine the shape of the snow
crystals. When the crystals have grown so large that ascending air currents are
unable to support them, they will begin to descend. The crystals will change shape as
they descend, depending on the temperature and moisture content of the passing air
strata. If the temperature is less than 0 degrees all the way to the ground,
precipitation will manifest as snow; if the temperature is close to 0 degrees, several
snow crystals will often join together. However, if it is cold the snow crystals may
take on a needle shape. Hail is formed when snow crystals melt on their way towards
the ground and strong ascending air currents lift them up again so that ice freezes on
them when they reach a sufficient altitude. They will then descend towards the
ground as hail, if they are large enough and do not melt before hitting the ground. A
special type of snow crystal is graupel. These are snow crystals that have collided
with supercooled water droplets on their descent. In turn, the water droplets have
frosted upon impact with the snow crystal. Such crystals are whitish in colour and
are fused together into a rounded shape.
Snow crystals have various shapes and may be divided into 9 different primary
classifications. Each primary classification has its own subgroups a total of 37
different subclasses or snow types. The letter codes for the respective primary
classifications and subclasses use the initials of gradings for respective snow crystal
types. For example, Depth Hoar has the letter code DH.
The most common is the perfect 6-armed stellar crystal, familiar from drawings and
symbols, which has a 60 degree angle between the arms. No snow crystals are
identical; all of them have their own distinctive characteristics!
In calm, cold weather snow may be extremely light and airy with a density as low as
around 10 kg/m. However, the average density of snow is 100 kg/m, i.e. 10% of the
density of water (water has a density of 1,000 kg/m). Thus, we may deduce that 1
mm of precipitation produces 1 cm of snow.
When the snow has landed it will either subside or settle. This process will happen
more quickly if the temperature is higher. Continuous cold weather will result in
light and airy snow over a prolonged period.
4.2 The snowpack
New snow crystals may be shattered by the wind even on their descent to the ground,
or because the wind blows the crystals along the snow surface. New snow that has
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
fallen in calm and cold weather, often characterised as loose snow, is light and airy.
This type of snow has little grip and bonding and, with such snow, loose snow
avalanches may occur providing the terrain is steep enough, i.e. steeper than around
45 degrees and up to around 60 degrees. If the terrain is steeper than 60 degrees, the
new snow will usually descend gently in many small loose snow avalanches.
Figure: 4.1
Loose snow avalanches in steep terrain
Both the intensity of the snowfall, the temperature during and after the snowfall, as
well as the wind strength and direction, will determine how the snowpack
accumulates. These conditions will vary and the relationships between the different
types of snowfall will cause the snowpack to constantly change. The snowpack will
thus comprise many different layers with various types of snow crystals and degrees
of hardness. Snow crust layers will also often be present as a result of mild weather
or rain: layers of snow covered surface hoar or graupel, which will remain as
constantly weak and potential sliding layers.
It is the layered composition of snow that is critical in respect of avalanche danger. If
there are lasting weak layers in the uppermost 1.5-2 metres of the snowpack then
these are the right kind of conditions for the release of a slab avalanche. Certain
grain types will form lasting weak layers that will remain in the snowpack for a long
time, while other grain types will alter rapidly so that the weak layer will only
remain in the snowpack for hours or days after its formation.
It should be particularly noted that the layers will, to a large extent, be present
everywhere in an area, while their thickness and depth and how much force that will
be required to initiate a fracture will vary greatly, also within short distances.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
4.2.1 Grain types, dimensions and characteristics
The individual grain types/primary shapes are shown below. Appendix 1 contains all
primary classification subclasses.
Figure: 4.2
Precipitation Particles
Primary classification PP, dimension
2-5 mm
Figure: 4.3
Decomposing and Fragmented precipi-
tation particles
Primary classification DF, dimension
1-3 mm
Figure: 4.4
Rounded Grains
Primary classification RG Dimension
0.1-0.8 mm
Figure: 4.5
Faceted Crystal snow, even surfaces,
stripes, lustrous crystals
Primary classification FC, dimension
1.5-4 mm
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 4.6
Depth Hoar
Primary classification DH Dimension
1-10 mm
Figure: 4.7
Melt Forms
Primary classification MF clustered
single crystals
Figure: 4.8
Surface Hoar, feather-shaped
Primary classification SH Dimension
2-100 mm
4.2.2 Mechanical decomposition
When the wind transports a new snow crystal it will rapidly erode, changing from a
PP (Precipitation Particles) crystal to a DF (Decomposing and Fragmented) crystal
(partially transformed, fig. 4.3). It will erode quite rapidly into a rounded grain
crystal, an RG (Rounded Grains) crystal, or drifting snow. In the case of drifting
snow the grains will be relatively small, often 0.2-0.3 mm.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 4.9
Mechanical decomposition of snow crystals
4.2.3 Transformation of snow Destructive transformation (destructive
Where a new snow crystal is not transported by the wind but remains static, a
destructive transformation will take place. This is because the new snow crystal is no
longer in balance with its surroundings; the supersaturation of water vapour in the
atmosphere is not present on the ground. Thus, the snow crystals shape will start to
transform. On the ground, the large new snow crystal will attempt to take on a
balanced shape that combines the greatest possible volume with the smallest possible
surface area. Thus, the new snow crystal will transform into a spherical shape. The
protruding convex parts of the crystal will evaporate and the concave parts will
sublimate (into ice). This means that the crystal arms will disappear leaving a small
compact crystal, rounded grain snow, type RG. The dimension of the RG crystal is
usually from 0.2 to 0.8 mm. It is important to note that this process takes place
without any melting occurring. i.e. the temperature is below 0 C. Destructive
transformation will occur more rapidly the closer the temperature is to 0 C. In such
cases the process will only take a few hours but at a temperature of -5 C it will take
1-2 weeks. The risk of an avalanche will thus remain for a longer period after heavy
snowfall in cold weather than when the temperature is closer to 0 C. Destructive
transformation occurs when the temperature gradient in the snowpack is less than
around 10 C per metre.
Figure: 4.10
Destructive transformation
The change in shape causes the snowpack to subside, the snow settles, the crystals
fuse together and the avalanche risk diminishes. The snowpack will also compress
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
due to the weight of the crystals above.
Destructive transformation stabilises the snowpack
diminishing the avalanche risk.
4.2.4 Snow transformation Sintering
When snow crystals come into close contact with each other they also fuse together
through the presence of small ice bridge connections between them at the contact
points. The process is called sintering and is due to water vapour moving towards an
area containing the least vapour. This is in the contact points between snow grains
where the vapour will condense, forming ice bridges. A transfer of molecules also
occurs on the surface of snow grains towards the contact points between the crystals.
Both of these processes occur faster the closer the temperature is to 0 C. The smaller
the crystals, the more ice connections per unit of space. This means that snow with a
large degree of sintering will tolerate relatively major tension, compression and shear
loads and is joined together in slabs.
Figure: 4.11
Sintering is of great significance to the snowpack; before sintering commences the
snowpack has minimal strength, particularly in calm weather. As sintering develops
ice bridges, the snows strength increases, i.e. it requires a greater force to displace
the crystals in relation to each other. This has two consequences in relation to
avalanche risk: The snow becomes more compact and will tolerate greater loads
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
before an avalanche occurs. However, when the snow is more compact coherent
slabs are more easily formed, which can transfer forces and stresses from one
location to another. In such cases, release points may be around prominent rocks,
ridges or bushes where a collapse as a result of lasting weak layers can easily occur
when the force or load of a skier is propagated through the snowpack and exerts
pressure on a so-called super weak point.
Layers of RG type crystals and well developed sintering in coastal areas can reach a
density of 500 kg/m, but will usually be around 300 kg/m. Such layers will be
white in colour.
Sintering stabilises the snowpack and the avalanche risk
4.2.5 Transformation of snow Constructive transformation (constructive
The constructive transformation creates lasting weak layers of faceted crystal snow
and depth hoar. These snow layers are responsible for around 35% of all avalanche
The temperature difference between the snow surface and the ground means that
excess moisture on the ground moves upwards into the snowpack. When this
moisture reaches snow layers with lower temperatures it condenses on the snow
crystals surfaces causing the snow crystals to grow and change shape. Water vapour
molecules also move on a small scale from one snow crystal to another and
condense. The conditions for constructive transformation are more favourable when
the snow is looser and the temperature change in the snow is greater. The
temperature difference in the snow is described as the temperature gradient. This
must be greater than 1 C per 10 cm or 10 C per metre for constructive
transformation to occur.
Figure: 4.12
Constructive transformation
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
!A thin snowpack and prolonged cold weather result in rapid
destructive transformation, increasing the avalanche risk.
NB! Snowfall and wind following such a period will lead to
an acute avalanche risk.
The crystals change from a rounded shape (rounded grains and melt forms) or
surface hoar into larger crystals with even surfaces and sharp edges. The snow is
grainy and lustrous and the crystals are faceted with a dimension of 2-3 mm. The
avalanche risk will increase if the contact surface between the crystals diminishes
and ice bridges vanish. This shape is described as faceted crystal snow and has the
primary classification FC (Faceted Crystals). It should be noted that RG crystals and
MF crystals, or melt forms, will constantly move towards faceted crystal snow if the
temperature gradient is great enough (1 per 10 cm snow). However, when studying
crystals the observer must determine how advanced the process is and which snow
type is in the individual layer.
When conditions permit (high pore volume and high temperature gradient) the
faceted crystal will develop further, the surfaces will gain stripes, the snow grain will
become hollow and the walls will form 120 angles towards each other. When the
snow grain has become hollow it is described as depth hoar and given the primary
classification DH (Depth Hoar). It may grow up to 10 mm. Depth hoar crystals are
stacked on top of each other with an opening facing downwards, as in a house of
cards. Following prolonged cold periods the whole snowpack can be transformed
into depth hoar and become extremely unstable. Depth hoar layers are often held in
place by other snow or snow crust layers but the moment it is subject to any load that
is not directly from above, e.g. a shear load caused by a skier on a slope, the layer
will collapse in an impacted fracture that can easily spread out into the snowpack.
Faceted crystal snow and depth hoar may also develop as thin layers of just a few
centimetres. This often occurs where there is a snow crust layer buried in the
snowpack. The snow crust layer will act as a vapour barrier when the temperature
gradient is sufficient enough and constructive transformation will rapidly occur
beneath the snow crust. As winter progresses, the process will eat away at the snow
crust layer and the layer of faceted crystal snow will move further up if conditions
are right.
It is also worth noting that a vapour deficiency will occur above a snow crust layer
causing the bonding and grains to break down here. This layer is often only 2-3 mm
and is therefore difficult to detect. However, several avalanches occur in this very
layer above a snow crust layer.
!Danger signs: Rumbling in the snow is caused by layers of
faceted crystal snow or depth hoar collapsing. If it is steep
enough, above 30, an avalanche may be triggered.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
4.2.6 Other types of grains and crystals
After one or more nights of cold, clear weather, surface hoar will form Primary
classification SH (Surface Hoar). Surface hoar resembles feathers growing on top of
the snowpack. Its dimension is usually from 1-50 mm but in favourable conditions
hoar crystals up to 130 mm may be identified. Surface hoar forms because during
clear nights the snow surface will be colder than air as there are no clouds to reflect
radiation back to earth. This causes the surface to lose energy and cool down. The
snow surface may be 5 C to 10 C colder than the air temperature. So when warmer
air comes into contact with the cold surface of the snow, it condenses, forming
surface hoar. This surface hoar is extremely slippery but poses no threat until it is
buried by other snow. The surface hoar layer may also be destroyed by wind, melted
by the sun or higher temperatures. If a surface hoar layer is buried without being
destroyed, the crystals will often tip, turning into a thin layer. The layers thickness
can be from 0.5-1 mm and represents a hazardous and lasting sliding layer.
In a small number of cases, as a result of new snow not being compacted or because
the surface hoar crystals are not blown over, the surface hoar layer may remain as air
strata. In low temperatures, the surface hoar layer is capable of lasting for several
weeks. Pockets of surface hoar caused by wind transport will transform into faceted
crystal snow more quickly than the surrounding snow when the temperature gradient
results in moisture transport in the snow. This is because a surface hoar crystal is
actually a faceted crystal but has been given a separate classification as its process of
formation is special, and because of its significance in respect of avalanche danger.
Thus, a hoar layer will remain constantly weak until the snowpack stabilises through
a melt-freeze process.
During the winter, especially in coastal climates, graupel layers may be found. Upon
closer examination its colour is whiter than traditional lustrous summer hail. The
small pellets are also porous and live up to the name graupel. Graupel is a new form
of snow with the primary classification type PP, but subclass gp, i.e. graupel is
described as PPgp. Graupel can vary in size from around 1-12 mm. The layers will
usually be relatively thin but, in the case of graupel, can also reach up to 50 cm if the
wind has resulted in the grains accumulating in smaller hollows in the terrain.
Graupel is capable of behaving like pellet layers creating very localised (due to large
local variations) unstable conditions where either a minor or even no extra load is
required to trigger an avalanche.
4.2.7 Wet snow, melting transformation (melting metamorphosis)
When snow has warmed up to 0 C it begins to melt. This is characterised by the
snow becoming sticky. The snow hangs together due to a thin water layer. Further
melting will result in the snow pores gradually filling with water. When the moisture
content exceeds 8% the water may be forced out of the snow and when it reaches
15% the water will drain out of the snow without any external influence. When snow
particles melt, the snows strength also diminishes because bonding between snow
grains is reduced and eventually disappears. In spring this is described as rotten
snow. When the water eventually drains away the snow will resettle and become
more compact.
The avalanche risk will increase due to increasing snow creep and dwindling surface
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
friction when the snow becomes damp and wet. After a period of time the avalanche
risk will diminish as the snow settles. When the snow becomes soaked or rotten,
there will be a risk of a slush avalanche occurring, particularly if there has been
much rain and significant snow melt.
If it becomes cold and the damp snow freezes, the avalanche risk will diminish and
the snowpack will stabilise. A snowpack that has been isothermal (0 C) and which
freezes again will lead to particularly stable conditions.
4.2.8 Subsidence in the snowpack, the snowpack in steep terrain
On level ground, snow will subside as it settles through destructive transformation.
Its density will also increase. Because the pore volume is highest in the uppermost
layers of snow, snow movement in steep terrain will be most significant in the
uppermost layers, and most of all in new snow up to 10 cm per day. Snow grains
will adhere to the force of gravity in steep terrain. Subsidence will also result in
snow moving downwards towards the ground. This type of movement is referred to
as snow creep and will result in stress and pressure in the snow with shear stresses
between snow layers. The stress will be most significant in the uppermost parts of
the snowpack. During the subsidence process, the density and strength of the snow
will increase from 100 kg/m for new snow to 300-400 kg/m for older snow. The
steeper the terrain, the greater the tension, compression and shear stresses, which
will increase the likelihood of an avalanche occurring.
The speed of the snow creep will increase as the snow temperature approaches 0
degrees, and the lower the density of the snow. It is new snow that has the lowest
density. The bonding between snow grains will also diminish as the snow becomes
sticky, causing the avalanche risk to increase as the snows temperature rises towards
0 degrees.
!When the snow temperature rises from -2 degrees up to 0
degrees, the avalanche risk will increase. Together with
precipitation (new snow) and/or wind, this may pose an acute
avalanche risk.
4.3 Weather that increases avalanche risk
It is generally acknowledged that avalanche situations most easily manifest in snowy
weather and wind. It is the intensity of snow accumulation, i.e. how quickly snow
accumulates on a mountainside that is the single most critical factor in respect of the
probability of an avalanche being triggered. Experience would also indicate that
temperature plays a significant role in the degree of risk. In summary, the three most
important weather factors that determine the degree of avalanche risk are:
- Precipitation and intensity
- Wind
- Temperature rise
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
4.3.1 Snowfall and wind
In Norway, the greatest amount of precipitation usually occurs when major migrating
low pressure systems move across the country. These are often followed by showery
weather that may cause a substantial amount of precipitation to fall on the coast and
in the mountains to the west of the watershed. The moisture content of the air is
temperature dependent insofar as cold air contains less moisture than warm air.
Figure: 4.13
Low pressure meets a coastal mountain range; snow in higher areas
Low pressure that meets coastal mountains is forced upwards and compelled to
produce increasing precipitation due to decreasing temperature. Above a certain
height precipitation will often fall as snow due to the temperature.
The temperature generally decreases at a rate of 0.6 C per 100 m of elevation, when
the air is virtually saturated with moisture. With dry air, the temperature decreases
up to 1 C per 100 m of elevation. When humid air from the sea flows in towards
land, air masses are forced upwards and the temperature decreases. The air is then
unable to retain as much water vapour, resulting in the formation of clouds and
precipitation. This leads to most precipitation falling in mountainous regions several
miles inland from the coast. After the mountains have been passed, the air will sink
again. Precipitation decreases and temperature increases because the
shower/precipitation area descends from the mountains and is able to retain more
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 4.14
Rain shadow
The windward side receives precipitation, the leeward side minimal precipitation.
As a rule, precipitation increases with height above sea level. It is difficult to provide
general guidelines in respect of the amount of new snow and wind speeds necessary
to trigger an avalanche because this is determined by the strength of weak layers and
the bonding between individual layers. In addition to precipitation and wind, the
terrain gradient is of great significance. Avalanches may be triggered even when as
little as 20-30 cm of new snow with little grip is on the surface.
Following larger snowfalls, e.g. 50 cm or more during the course of a 24 hour
period, conditions may become unstable and in steep enough terrain an avalanche
will probably occur. If snowy weather remains over a longer period, the snow will
eventually settle and more snow will be required for the avalanche risk to be as
significant as it would be with a similar size snowfall over a shorter period. Thus, the
intensity of the snowfall is of significance in respect of avalanche risk. The
relationship between the depth of new snow and the likelihood of a naturally
triggered avalanche is shown schematically in the table below.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Increase in snow over 3 days Probability of naturally triggered av-
alanches, and avalanche type
Up to 10 cm Rare, very localised snow movement
(primarily loose snow avalanches)
10-30 cm Some local slab avalanches. Frequent
loose snow avalanches
30-50 cm Frequent local slab avalanches, primari-
ly on steep mountainsides
50-80 cm Widespread slab avalanches, also in les-
s steep terrain. General risk above tim-
ber line. Some larger avalanches into
the valley bottom
80-120 cm Frequent major avalanches into the val-
ley bottom. Also occasionally outside
of known avalanche paths
over 120 cm Possibility of rare and, up to now, unk-
nown avalanches, both in new locations
and also beyond old avalanche paths
and risk maps (Zone 2)
Table 4.1 Increase in snow and the probability of naturally triggered avalanches
The table applies to wind speeds up to 5 m/s. With stronger and more persistent
winds the risk will increase by one or two levels.
The wind transports the snow, collects it and distributes it on steep slopes. At
temperatures below 0 C with a relatively soft snow surface, snow transport will
commence with winds of 5 m/s, and even at 10 m/s there will be a strong ground
storm. Generally, when the wind speed doubles, its potential to transport snow
increases to the third power. This means that the accumulated amount of snow per
hour on the mountainside must be multiplied by 8 (or 2) when the wind speed
doubles. With wind speeds from ca. gale to strong gale (20-25 m/s) the wind is able
to transport large amounts of snow and several metres may accumulate on leeward
sides in the course of a few hours. The amount of loose snow that is accessible to
wind transport will also determine how much snow is transported. However, it
should be noted that with a wind speed of 14-16 m/s, strong snow crust layers will be
torn up and hard-packed snow will begin to move.
!The rule of thumb is that with a wind strength higher than
gale over several hours, the avalanche risk may increase to a
high avalanche risk.
Weather forecasts issued by meteorologists in the media and which are available on specify average lowland winds. Experience would suggest that for exposed
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Avalanche risk may be high or extremely high even without new snow
areas above the tree line the forecasted wind speed may often be doubled. It is also
challenging that, in Norway, measurements from mountain-based weather stations
are not available, unlike the weather stations that exist in Alpine countries and other
countries that face challenges in respect of avalanches. This means that evaluations
of measured and forecasted temperature, precipitation and wind speed in
mountainous regions are uncertain.
Precipitation is usually measured in mm and specifies how much water is produced
when snow has melted. 1 mm rain is around 1 cm of snow (density: 1m = 100 kg).
Accumulated snow is most easily measured by placing a board measuring 1x1 metre
on the ground at a location not affected by wind, where snow observations may be
made every day and the increase in the amount of snow measured on top of the
0-8 m/s 8-15 m/s 15-20 m/s 20-25 m/s
1. Low >15 cm 0 0 0
2. Modera-
>20 cm >15 cm >5 cm 0
3. Consi-
>30 cm >20 cm >15 cm >5 cm
4. High >50 cm >30 cm >20 cm >10 cm
5. Very
>80 cm >50 cm >30 cm >20 cm
Table 4.2 Relationship between avalanche risk, snowfall and wind
An example of the relationship between avalanche risk, new snow and wind in an
extremely wind-exposed area (wind is specified as average wind per 10 mins.).
The likelihood of an avalanche being triggered varies from one snowfall to another.
In certain cases, for example, 20 cm of new snow is necessary while on other
occasions the new snow must exceed 100 cm before an avalanche occurs. Following
snowfall and wind the risk of a self-triggered avalanche will diminish quite rapidly
although the risk of an avalanche being triggered as a result of human activity will
remain high.
!Following snowfall and wind, the risk of a self-triggered
avalanche will diminish quite rapidly although the risk of an
avalanche being triggered as a result of human activity will
remain high.
4.3.2 Rain
It is not only snowy weather that is the source of avalanches. Rain on top of snow
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
leads to a weakening in the bonding between snow crystals. Rain will also cause an
increase in weight and greater strain on the snowpack. During rainy weather the
temperature will rise somewhat, which generally increases the speed of the snow
creep and weakens the bonds. In order for rain, as a single factor, to significantly
heighten the avalanche risk, more than 5-10 mm per 24 hour period needs to fall.
Continuous rainfall over several days will soak the snowpack and act as a
restabilising factor.
The consistency of snow is of significance insofar as rain on new snow more easily
results in an avalanche than when it has rained on an old snow surface. Moreover,
slush avalanches may be considered in situations with major precipitation in the form
of rain.
4.3.3 Temperature of the snowpack
The temperature is of significance to the stability of the snowpack. With low
temperatures throughout the whole snowpack, all snow crystal transformation and
ice bridge formation between snow grains will happen slowly and the snowpack may
be unstable for several days following a snowfall. The temperature over longer
periods (several weeks) is of significance to the constructive transformation of the
snow crystals. Low snow surface temperature combined with a proportionally thin
snowpack (large temperature gradient) will cause the lower layers to transform into
faceted crystal snow, meaning that during the course of a cold period the snowpack
is more unstable. A prolonged cold period with a thin snow layer followed by new
snow and wind transport will often result in extremely unstable conditions that may
persist for several weeks.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 4.15
Constructive transformation during periods of cold weather and a thin snowpack
Water vapour rises through the snow and condenses.
When the temperature rises the sintering process will increase but when the
temperature of the snow approaches 0 degrees it becomes sticky and damp and the
ice bridges between the snow grains will diminish in strength and eventually
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
disappear. Snow creep will also increase during a rise in temperature due to the snow
subsiding more quickly. This weakens the stability of the snowpack. When the whole
snowpack has been soaked it will become more stable although it will not regain
complete stability before it has frozen all the way down to the ground and ice bridges
have formed.
Experience indicates that the avalanche risk increases and is
greatest when a warm front passes, i.e. when the air
temperature exceeds 0 degrees. The avalanche risk is greatest
in the first hours after the warm front has passed.
4.3.4 Solar heating
As spring progresses the sun will increasingly gain more of a hold and radiation will
heat the snowpack. The amount of solar energy that accumulates on the snow surface
depends on the snows condition. New snow that has not been contaminated will
reflect up to 90% of incoming solar radiation. Older snow will reflect significantly
less radiation so that it heats up more quickly and becomes moist. The moisture will
be forced further down into the snowpack and stable bonds will dissolve. This may
occur even if the air temperature is below 0 C. Thus, strong solar radiation during
the spring heightens the avalanche risk. If it becomes so cold during the night that it
freezes down through the snowpack, the snowpack will stabilise. In January and
February, solar heating will usually have little effect on the snowpack.
4.4 Meteogram
The Norwegian Armed Forces has its own weather database supplied by
Information may be downloaded over the Internet at, user name
forsvaret. The password will vary from year to year. Under Javameteogrammer are
local forecasts for the specific area in which you are searching.
The meteogram should be used in conjunction with the local weather forecast for the
area in which you are located.
In addition to the Norwegian Armed Forces meteograms, local weather forecasts are
also available at These are similar to the meteograms at
It should be noted that neither the location forecasts at or the meteograms at are processed by meteorologists in the same way as text forecasts.
Location forecasts at or meteograms are machine-processed data, using a
model that the duty meteorologist regards as the most probable. Thus, it may deviate
from the local forecast prepared by meteorologists.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
5.1 Avalanche types
Avalanches are divided into three primary groups:
- Loose snow avalanche
- Slab avalanche
- Slush avalanche
5.1.1 Loose snow avalanche
Figure: 5.1
Loose snow avalanche
This type of avalanche generally occurs on the surface of the snowpack when
bonding between the snow crystals is poor. This typically happens directly after a
snowfall with light snow in calm weather or during spring when the sun and rain
melt the bonds between snow grains. Loose snow avalanches are most often
triggered at one point and spread out in a pear-shape.
Loose snow avalanches usually occur in terrain that has a steepness of 45 to 60. A
loose snow avalanche will normally trigger itself when friction on the surface and to
the side, as well as the snows bonds, succumb to gravity. Through destructive
transformation the natural bonding between the new snow grains will be reduced and
the avalanche risk will heighten. However, the trigger factor will usually be the
weight of snow, in terms of the intensity of snowfall or in terms of snowdrifts, which
cause the weight of the snow to be greater than the frictional forces and bonding
between snow grains (cohesion). A loose snow avalanche is rarely triggered by
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
personnel. In the event that this does happen, the individual/s responsible for
triggering a loose snow avalanche will usually be located above the avalanche.
Loose snow avalanches pose little threat to military personnel.
5.1.2 Slab avalanche
This type of avalanche is characterised by a more permanent snow layer sliding onto
a looser layer further down the snowpack or on the ground. This creates a sharp
fracture line along the upper boundary. Slab avalanches may comprise a substantial
amount of snow insofar as a slope several hundred metres wide can slide out
simultaneously. The fracture line may be several metres high. The slab will break
into smaller blocks further down the avalanche path and will end up as a flowing
loose mass that may also be airborne along the avalanche path. When the slab
avalanche stops the snow immediately hardens. This is due to both compression and
heating through friction, after which the snow cools again.
The table shows the dimensions of a slab avalanche.
Numeric Code Grading Volume
1 Slippage Up to 100 m
2 Small Up to 1.000 m
3 Medium Up to 10.000 m
4 Large Up to 100.000 m
5 Very large Larger than 100.000 m
Table 5.1 Avalanche classification in relation to volume
This classification has been issued by the NGI (Norwegian Geotechnical Institute) as
a proposal for classification.
Even if the snow is light and loose in the bottom of the valley there could still be a
risk of a slab avalanche being triggered higher up on the mountainside where the
terrain is more exposed to the wind, enabling the snowpack to form slabs.
A slab avalanche may be wet or dry. This means that it will behave differently. It is
therefore important to understand the differences between wet and dry avalanches,
what triggers them and how they behave.
The table below shows the differences between wet and dry slab avalanches.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Dry slab avalanches Wet slab avalanches
What triggers the avalan-
The avalanche is trigge-
red because the weight of
the snow, or persons,
exceeds the forces kee-
ping the snow in place
The avalanche is trigge-
red because the strength
of the snowpack/bonding
between the snow grains
is weakened
To what extent are people
In 90% of cases the av-
alanche is triggered by
the victim or by someone
accompanying the victim
Very rarely triggered by
people, usually triggered
What type of weather cau-
ses this type of avalanche?
Wind transport of snow
or intense snowy weather
Usually triggered by rain,
constant melting by the
sun or high temperatures
How does the avalanche
Fast (100-200 km/h),
usually in a cloud of
snow (airborne)
Slowly (35-100 km/h),
like running cement, wit-
hout a snow cloud
Table 5.2: Schematic representation of the differences between wet and dry
Figure: 5.2
Slab avalanche
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Dry slab avalanches pose the greatest threat to military
personnel in terrain. Wet slab avalanches pose the greatest
threat to military bivouacs and vehicles on road axes.
5.1.3 Slush avalanche
This type of avalanche comprises a fluid mixture of snow and water in which water
is predominant. Slush avalanches may occur following a major snow melt or strong
rains on the snowpack. In such conditions it is advisable not to assemble in creek
beds or where large streams flow into the bottom of the valley. Slush avalanches
may be triggered with a gradient of less than 30 degrees (as low as 0 degrees) and
may have a range that is far beyond the 20 degree rule.
This type of avalanche is most common in coastal areas during the early part of
winter where snow covered ground receives large amounts of rain. Slush avalanches
may also occur during spring in the interior and in high mountains, although this is
also linked to large amounts of rain, combined with melting snow.
Figure: 5.3
Slush avalanche
Precipitation and melting snow that dam up may form the basis of a slush avalanche
when the dam gives way.
Neither the Norwegian Armed Forces avalanche maps nor
the avalanche risk scale take into account slush avalanches.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
5.2 Forces that influence an avalanche
In order to understand how a slab avalanche is triggered it is necessary to study in
more detail the forces at work in the snowpack. Depending on time, temperature and
air humidity, a transformation of snow grains in the various layers of snow will
occur. We regard the processes as subsidences down through the snowpack. On a
slope, snow grains will partially move themselves along the plumb line because of
subsidence. However, gravity results in movement (creep) parallel to the terrain
gradient. The largest snow creep occurs on steep mountainsides. The snowpack may
also slide along the ground if it is slippery, such as, for example, bare rock-face or
sward. The consequences of such creep and slippage can be seen from trees on steep,
nival slopes, which characteristically bend from the roots and a little way up the
Figure: 5.4
Stress, compression and shear forces
Because the terrain usually alternates in terms of shape, coarseness and gradient, the
velocity of snow grains will vary from one location to the next. This causes tension
in the snowpack. Gravity affects a snow slab on an incline. In order for the slab to
remain in place this force must be absorbed along the sides and towards the surface.
It is necessary to distinguish here between shear, stress and compressive forces.
The slabs ability to tolerate stress is determined by the snows shear, stress and
compressive strength. If the stress exceeds the anchoring forces, an avalanche will be
triggered. Of particular significance to avalanche risk are the shear forces that affect
weak layers and bonding between layers down in the snowpack. Such layers or layer
transitions have very little capacity to tolerate stress and during unstable periods the
weight of a skier may be sufficient to initiate a fracture in the loose layer.
Moreover, a rapid accumulation of snow, either through precipitation or drifting
snow, will cause a shear fracture in a weak layer. The fracture often sounds like a
weak rumble or a boom. This will result in the slab losing its anchoring and an
avalanche may be triggered if the terrain is steep enough.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 5.5
Forces that affect a snowpack on a slope
Uppermost are stress forces, at the base are compressive forces, at the sides and
towards the surface are shear forces.
The vast majority of accidents involving skiers occur because the skiers themselves
trigger the avalanche, as opposed to avalanches that are triggered for natural reasons.
In unstable conditions a fracture in the snowpack at the foot of a slope can quickly
spread up the slope and trigger a slab avalanche higher up the mountainside. In other
words, the person who triggers the avalanche may be on level ground such as, for
example, a stream gorge in which the terrain above or to the side is 30 degrees or
!Never approach the foot of steep inclines or enter them when
the snowpack is rumbling
5.3 An avalanche in motion
When an avalanche is moving down a mountainside its speed quickly increases.
Initially, it has a sliding motion insofar as the snow slab breaks into smaller blocks of
snow that slide like bricks on a smooth surface. Smaller avalanches with a drop of 10
to 20 metres are characterised by a sliding snow slab that breaks into large blocks. In
larger avalanches, the blocks break up as velocity increases and the avalanche
changes to a mixture of snow that whirls up into the air (snow cloud) and snowballs
that roll, hop or slide towards the surface. (Respectively, saltation and flow layers.)
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 5.6
Example of a fracture in a layered snowpack
At the moment of fracture there is usually a layer of snow at the base that forms a
floor for the avalanche. Above this is a sliding layer that is often a thin layer of
surface hoar crystals or a layer of faceted crystals/depth hoar. Above this is the
avalanche mass itself which, in a slab avalanche, will often comprise fine-grained
hard-packed snow (drifting snow).
Velocity of a dry slab avalanche: 30-60 m/s (ca 100-200 km/h)
Velocity of a wet avalanche: 10-30 m/s (ca 35-100 km/h)
The velocity will vary according to the terrain gradient and the surface. A wet snow
mass will have greater friction towards the surface and will thus not attain the high
velocity of a dry avalanche. As an example, an avalanche with average friction on a
30 degree slope will have a velocity of 8 m/s after just 10 metres and, with a density
of 200 kg/m, this would be sufficient to crush the wall of a timber building.
The avalanche mass will harden once the avalanche has stopped and the snow will
become compact and hard. Such snow is very heavy to dig into and, in the case of
rescue, it is necessary to use steel shovels. The avalanche mass may be more than
10-15 metres thick if the avalanche stops in a narrow gorge. On level terrain the
accumulation is significantly thinner. If the snow is moisty, avalanche debris has a
tendency to end up as deposed tongues with irregular breakthroughs.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
6.1 Snow profile
A snow profile comprises a vertical wall around 2 metres wide and down to the
ground (or 2 meters down) with a completely smooth wall. The purpose of a snow
profile is to study the layering in snow between the surface and the ground to gain an
understanding of the properties of the respective layers, as well as to document this
appropriately. The purpose of the following stability tests is to calculate how much
additional stress the snowpack can tolerate before an avalanche is triggered and
which layers this occurs in, seen against the snow profile.
Stability tests should be carried out in areas that are representative of the areas in
which we wish to assess the avalanche risk. This requires identical exposure and a
slope that is more than 30 degrees steep should be located. A snow profile should be
carried out above the tree line as the snow here is particularly affected by wind
transport. However, if the activity is to be undertaken below the tree line, or because
weak layers have been identified below the tree line, then the profile should be
carried out here. A snow profile with stability tests has clear limitations. It indicates
how much additional load the snow is able to tolerate at that specific location. By
moving 10 metres to the side the test may provide completely different answers. It is
therefore vital to carry out several stability tests in similar exposures. Ideally two
stability tests should be carried out side-by-side in the same snow profile shaft for
verification purposes.
The choice of location should always be based on the assumption that it is safe for
the individual/s carrying out the tests. This includes an evaluation of the size of the
slope, the consequences of an avalanche being triggered, terrain traps, and that
personnel are available in the event that a rescue needs to be carried out. The slopes
being tested should have a height of 5 to 10 metres and should be representative for
the area. In the event of any uncertainty about the prevailing conditions, or if it is
difficult to locate a safe, small slope of more than 30 degrees, the profiling and tests
should be carried out in less steep terrain. In such cases, the individual/s carrying out
the stability tests should be aware that signs and results will be less clear than in
steeper terrain.
The snow profile is made by digging a pit around 2 metres wide and primarily down
to the ground to gain a complete overview regarding depth hoar layers closer to the
ground. If several profiles are taken and it is more than 2 metres to the ground it will
be sufficient to dig to a depth of 2 metres (or to the depth of potentially weak layers
based on previous profiles).
The wall of the snow profile facing the slope must be vertical, as smooth as possible,
and perpendicular to the slope in accordance with figure 6.5. The snow stratification
is marked and the hardness of the respective layers is measured using the hand test
method. The hand test method should commence with a clenched fist that is pressed
with moderate force (ca. 5 kg or 50 N of thrust), followed by four fingers, one finger,
a pencil with the blunt end inwards, and a knife. If pure ice is present this should be
marked. The purpose of the test is to identify potential layers that could form a slab
in an avalanche. In the event that such layers are found on top of loose layers an
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
alarm should be raised immediately!
Figure: 6.1
Absolute values of the hand test method
!The location where a snow profile is to be carried out should
always be safe for personnel intending to study the snowpack.
If hard layers are identified that could form slabs on top of
loose layers, the alarm should be raised immediately!
6.1.1 Weak and unstable layers in the snowpack
The purpose of a snow profile and stability tests is to identify weak layers and sli-
ding layers in the snow. The object is to locate layers of surface hoar that could crea-
te a slip plane, graupel layers that may act as sliding layers (pellet layers) and, natu-
rally, layers of faceted crystal snow or depth hoar that may constitute layers that
easily collapse and have poor bonds. In 80% of avalanches triggered by people the
fracture (cause) will occur in weak and unstable layers, 47% in layers of buried sur-
face hoar, 26% in layers of faceted crystal snow and 8% in layers of depth hoar.
6.1.2 Snow profile form
All snow profile observations must be recorded in a field journal so that this may be
maintained as a log on a snow profile form, or on an electronic snow profile form
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
such as Snowpilot, (available on the Internet). The snow profile form is like a com-
bat journal for the avalanche forecaster. Here it will be possible to review the con-
dition of the snowpack several days before so that its development may be studied. It
will also function as a journal in the event of an accident occurring. The snow profile
form is enclosed as Appendix 2.
6.1.3 Classification of snow types
The various types of snow grains are divided into primary types in which each type
has its own subgroups. Some of these will be of interest as they specify the stage in
the development of a snow grain that may provide other properties than the primary
group. (All subgroups are specified in Appendix 1.) This is an international classifi-
cation (ICSI 20120) also used by the Norwegian Armed Forces. Grain types in the
individual layers should be entered on the snow profile form.
6.1.4 Grain types
Refer to figures 4.2 to 4.8
Primary shape Primary classification Symbol
New snow; the crystal is
the same as or similar to its
original shape, as well as
PP (Preciptation Partic-
Machine-made snow MM (Machine Made
Decomposing and frag-
mented; irregular rounded
shapes with branches, first
stage of destructive trans-
formation, partially decom-
DF Decomposing and
Fragmented preciptation
Rounded Grains; rounded
individual grains, final sta-
ge of destructive transfor-
mation, mechanically de-
composing crystal shapes
RG (Rounded grains)
Faceted crystal snow;
grains with even surfaces
and stripes, first stage of
constructive transformation
FC (Faceted Crystals)
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Depth hoar; hollow crys-
tals, even surfaces with
stripes, final stage of con-
structive transformation
DH (Depth Hoar)
Melt forms; wet crystals,
may be frozen together, po-
lycrystals, slush
MF (Melt Forms)
surface hoar; surface hoar
or cavity hoar, feather-like
SH (Surface Hoar)
Ice; pure ice layer in which
the crystals are no longer
IF (Ice Formations)
Table 6.1 Primary shapes of snow crystals with numeric codes and symbols
6.1.5 Grain transformation schematic
Snow grains will constantly be in the process of transforming into a new shape until
they dissolve. Figure 6.2 shows how snow grains may be transformed through con-
structive transformation, destructive transformation, stagnation or melt processes.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 6.2
Transformation cycle of snow crystals
All crystals can transform through melting into melt forms (MF). Through a process
of destructive transformation the new snow crystal (PP) will transform into a decom-
posing and fragmented crystal (DF). Through destructive transformation it will trans-
form into a fine-grained crystal. With minor density and a large temperature gradient
on the snow surface, PP and DF crystals can transform directly into small faceted
(FC) crystals (fine cold weather over a prolonged period with a thin snowpack).
Crystal forms will never revert to new snow crystals or decomposing, fragmented
crystals. A small fine-grained crystal has reached the final stage in the process of
destructive transformation. The fine-grained crystal transforms into a faceted crystal
through constructive transformation and the faceted crystal transforms into depth ho-
ar, concluding the process of constructive transformation.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
6.1.6 Fracture surface quality
Recent research indicates that the quality of the fracture surface (Q) is critical to av-
alanche risk. The quality of the fracture surface is an indication of how slippery the
surface is where a fracture/slippage occurs, as well as how easily the fracture occurs.
On some occasions the block of snow emerges as if it was spring-loaded, almost
shooting out. There is a clear connection between the block shooting out and a major
avalanche risk. The table below specifies the fracture surface quality. The fracture
surface quality should be used to specify the quality of all fracture surfaces in the
stability tests described above.
Figure: 6.3
Q1 the block shoots out as if it was spring-loaded
Fracture surface quality Description of slip plane Comments
Q1 The block shoots out as if
it was spring-loaded
NB! Indication of avalan-
che risk
Q2 Slip plane is smooth, or
slightly rough
Q3 Slip plane is uneven Good grip between lay-
ers, or fracture in a homo-
geneous layer
Table 6.2 Codification of fracture surface quality
!Q1 is a clear indication of a high avalanche hazard.
6.2 Shovel test
The shovel test is not a stability test (as many would believe) but a method to
identify layers of surface hoar and other potentially critical layers that may be
difficult to locate. A buried layer of surface hoar do not need to be more than 1 mm
thick. It will be extremely difficult to locate in the profile but, through a shovel test,
and if the friction is low enough, the layer will slide.
The procedure involves sawing a trapezoidal column of snow in the same way that a
cake is cut, to the same width of the shovel and slightly smaller along the rear edge.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
The rear edge should not be cut any longer than the length of the saw. With the
shovel inserted vertically behind the column, one layer after another should be
loosened in the search for potentially critical layers. The shovel test is allocated
numeric codes in order to illustrate friction between layers. However, these must not
be used as an index of avalanche risk. ST is the international abbreviation for Shovel
Test. Of special interest is a fracture from a shovel test when the fracture surface
quality is a Q1 (Shear Quality, index 6.1.6). In such cases, this stratification should
be particularly noted in respect of the stability tests.
Figure: 6.4
Shovel test
NB! The shovel must not be used to break free the snow block
Numeric code Grading Description
ST 1 Very easy Slides during sawing or
insertion of shovel
ST 2 Easy Slides with little extra
load, little pressure on the
ST 3 Medium Slides with medium extra
load, slight increase of
force compared to ST 2
ST 4 Hard Slides with much extra
load, significant pressure
on the shovel
Table 6.3 Codification of shovel test
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
6.3 Compression test
This is the first of three different stability tests used by the Norwegian Armed
Forces. The test is useful in locating weak layers in the snowpack and for measuring
the vertical load required before the snowpack collapses. The test is also relatively
quick to perform.
The load is applied vertically to the top of an isolated snow column. Snow should be
removed from the top so that the shovel pushes vertically down and not at an angle
to the top of the column. Fractures may be observed at the front of the column (it
would be advantageous if a fellow worker was making the observations). The shovel
is placed on the top with the front side of the blade facing downwards towards the
column. Pressure is applied through strikes of the hand, the forearm, followed by the
whole arm.
The procedure involves isolating a snow column measuring 30x30 cm (measured
parallel to the layers) that runs straight down passed the weak layers, although not as
far as the depth hoar layers on the ground. The sides of the column must be
completely smooth and even if the fractures are to be clearly visible. The column
should not be so high that it starts to topple, i.e. maximum height of around 1 metre.
The height of the column should be recorded. If a layer fractures during isolation of
the block or during application of the shovel, this should be recorded as CTV
(Compression Test Very easy).
Following this, up to 10 strikes or drops are applied with the wrist. The load should
not exceed more than what is applied by the weight of the hand on the shovel from a
90 degree drop. If a layer fractures after, for example, 7 wrist drops, this should be
recorded as CT 7. Following this, the snow should be removed down to the fractured
layer, followed by wrist drops 8, 9, 10, etc. From 11 to 20 drops the whole forearm
should be used and from 21 to 30 drops the whole arm with fist clenched (but
without striking). The test is concluded at 30 and CTN (No fracture) should be
recorded in the event that no fracture or collapse occurs. If at any time the uppermost
part of the block beneath the shovel is crushed and the force of the shovel is thus no
longer transferred to the rest of the block, the loose snow should be removed. The
test is not valid on weak layers that are more than 100 cm deep. In such cases the
snow must be removed on top and the column being tested. In this type of situation,
only information regarding potentially weak layers may be used, while the weight
application at the point of fracture (e.g. CT 7) may not be used directly in assessing
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 6.5
Compression test
Numeric code Grading Description
CTV Very easy Fracture when column is
isolated (by sawing)
CT 1-10 Easy Fracture with little extra
CT 11-20 Medium Fracture with medium ex-
tra load
CT 21-30 Hard Fracture with much extra
CTN No fracture No fracture
Table 6.4 Codification of compression test
6.4 Extended compression test
The extended compression test is a comparatively new test that experience has so far
shown to produce extremely reliable results in relation to the snowpacks ability to
propagate a fracture. How easily a fracture propagates in the snowpack is of great
significance to how easily an avalanche can be triggered. It would be natural to
perform this test if a CT 0-10 was recorded during the compression test. If the
compression test indicates a relatively stable snowpack there would be little reason
to assume that an ECT (Extended Column Test) would produce any results. So far,
the ECT has shown itself as the most reliable individual test for assessing whether
the snowpack is stable or unstable.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Instead of isolating a snow column of 30x30 cm, in this case a 90x30 cm column is
isolated, the 30 cm section being upwards on the slope. The shovel is applied to one
corner of the column and the loading of the column is undertaken in the same way as
in the compression test. Initially, 10 strikes/drops with the wrist are applied,
followed by 10 strikes/drops with the forearm and, finally, 10 strikes/drops with the
whole arm. When a fracture/crack appears in the snow column the number of strikes
should be recorded, as well as whether the fracture spread across the whole surface.
If this does not happen, apply one more strike and if the fracture then spreads
throughout the whole column the snowpack may be deemed unstable. If the fracture
does not propagate immediately, or on the first strike following the initial fracture,
the snowpack may be regarded as stable.
Fracture surface studies very often indicate that if the first sign of a fracture spreads
itself throughout the whole column, or in a subsequent strike, the block will emerge
with a Q1 (index 6.1.6). An extended compression test should be recorded as, for
example, ECT 6/6, ECT 6/7 or ECTNP (No Propagation). The first figure specifies
the number of strikes until the initial fracture occurred. The second figure specifies
the number of strikes until the fracture propagates throughout the whole column. The
test is not valid for weak layers deeper than 100 cm. If the weak layer is lower then
the snow on top must be removed. The same proviso for the interpretation of test
results in the compression test also applies here.
Figure: 6.6
Extended compression test
An extended compression test should be undertaken following the shovel test and the
compression test. The respective tests should then be compared.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
!If a layer of slippery surface hoar or faceted crystal snow has
been found where slippage/collapse is measured at CT 0-10,
as well as fracture propagation in an ECT, an alarm must be
6.5 Rutsch block
The rutsch block is a direct test of stability in the snowpack using an increasing
vertical load. A rutsch block takes around 25-40 minutes to excavate. This is
labour-intensive in relation to the amount of information obtained.
The test area is 3 m

. When the snow is loose it may be difficult to test the uppermost

layers (20-30cm). There is also uncertainty as to whether this method provides a true
picture of weak layers deeper than 1 metre beneath the surface.
A vertical wall is dug in the snow to a length of 2.5-3 m and a depth of 1.5-2 m. In
order to isolate the 3 m block, 1. 5 m long trenches are dug on either side. The upper
or rear long side is cut with an avalanche cord or snow saw, if it is long enough.
Specially long saws and cords are available for cutting the sides, rather than
excavating. If a saw is being used on the sides, the block must be cut trapezoidally in
order to prevent it from jamming.
Once the block has been isolated it should be loaded in 7 stages with increasing
loads until it eventually slides out in a weak layer, in accordance with the scale in
table 6.5.
Figure: 6.7
Rutsch block
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Stage Loads that cause the block to slide out
RB 1 Excision without additional load
RB 2 A skier cautiously moves onto the block
(on the upper half of the block, 30-40
cm below the upper edge)
RB 3 The skier performs a rocking motion
without raising the heels or the skis
RB 4 The skier jumps and lands in the same
RB 5 The skier jumps again in the same place
RB 6 Jump without skis in the same place. If
the snow is loose, descend to the middle
of the block wearing skis, rock once
and then jump three times
RB 7 None of the preceding stages result in a
clean fracture
Table 6.5 Codification of rutsch block
The American rutsch block classification is specified above. The Swiss classification
differs slightly.
6.6 Validity of stability tests
In the case of compression tests, values of 13 or less indicate avalanche risk, while
values of 14 or higher indicate stability, although these are not absolute. Experience
from field tests would indicate that it is possible to have a CT 5 while avalanche risk
2 is still present, as well as a CT 19 and avalanche risk 3. It is therefore important
that not only one test method is used but as many as possible in different exposures.
In addition, two CTs should be undertaken side-by-side and the results should be
approximately the same.
The rutsch block provides a tolerably quantifiable measurement of snowpack
stability. Nevertheless, it should be noted that on a relatively homogeneous
mountainside there may be significant variations in the snowpack. Thus, a rutsch
block on its own can give a completely false impression. However, the rutsch block
shows minor variations in test results compared with other tests.
The ECT indicates a positive relationship between the results and the actual
avalanche risk. However, it may appear as being too conservative when there is a
permanent layer of, for example, drifted snow above the fracturing weak layer.
None of the stability tests take into account the stabilising effect of the layers above
the weak layer. An example of this could be compact drifted snow above a layer of
faceted snow where a CTV is attained, but in which it is possible to jump on the
snowpack without anything happening, in spite of snow being released underneath
and to the sides without any cuts to the rear edge. Stress forces in the snowpack
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
keep the snow in place, with a person acting as the additional load. This is a
weakness that is present in all of the specified tests as the columns (CT, ECT) or
surface in the rutsch block are totally released from the edges, i.e. only the strength
and friction of the weak layer are tested.
The Norwegian School of Winter Warfare, together with the NGI (The Norwegian
Geotechnical Institute) are currently working on a new test (SLAB) that also takes
into account the effects of the forces that hold the snowpack in place. In this test, the
column is not released at the rear edge.
Tests are performed in less steep terrain (with the exception of the rutsch block).
This may be a correct assessment when snow conditions are so unstable that it would
be regarded as too risky to expose personnel to smaller formations above 30 degrees.
Thus, personnel carrying out such tests should be aware that the results will differ, or
will be more difficult to interpret than previous tests, as well as requiring more
6.7 Use of explosives
As a rule, the Norwegian Armed Forces does not use explosives either to assess an
avalanche risk or to trigger an avalanche. Explosives should only be used in special
circumstances and such activity should be undertaken by avalanche group personnel.
If, for safety reasons, it is necessary to blast mountainsides or snow banks this should
be carried out as shown in figure 6.8. Charges should be buried as deep as possible at
the rear edge of the snow bank or assumed fracture line. It may also be advantageous
to lower a larger charge onto the surface of the snow, a little below the assumed
fracture line. This should be carried out with a rope. The charges should be
simultaneously ignited or a delay unit should be utilised in which the surface charge
is ignited first. The size and number of charges will vary according to the amount of
snow, terrain formation and extent of the avalanche risk area. However, as an
example, the charges at the rear edge may range from 5 kg to 25 kg and the surface
charge from 5 kg to 50 kg. Regardless of the size of the charges, the snowpack must
be unstable. In a stable snowpack it will not be possible to trigger an avalanche
(neither is this necessary).
For stability testing of the snowpack with explosives, small charges from 0.5-1 kg
should be used. The most efficient impact on the snowpack in respect of pressure is a
charge that is ignited one metre above the assumed fracture line. In such cases, the
charges are mounted on snow poles or furring strips. A helicopter will be required
for the emplacement of these items.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 6.8
Emplacement of explosives during avalanche blasting
6.8 Fracture line inspection
A fracture line inspection where a recent avalanche has occurred can provide
valuable information. The purpose of the inspection is to identify the cause of the
avalanche, as well as the layers that fractured. Before ascending or entering out into
an avalanche path, the risk of new snow sliding out of the fracture line or other
avalanche paths that could affect the area must first be assessed. Normally, an
avalanche path along which an avalanche has recently occurred is a safe area as it is
unlikely that the remaining snow would be capable of loosening. This is because the
usual former stress load has been eliminated and the anchoring forces are greater
than the forces that could pull the rest of the snow downwards. The fracture line
inspection is carried out by excavating a profile and performing stability tests. The
profile should be excavated 1 metre above the fracture line.
6.9 Free moisture content in the snowpack
Free moisture content describes the content of water in the snow in volume
percentage. Free moisture is only present in snow that has a temperature equal to 0
degrees. Dry gloves or mittens are required to test the dampness of the snow. Before
starting to test for free moisture content, the surface layer in the profile wall must be
removed in order to reach layers that have not been affected by air temperature or
solar radiation.
The moisture content is registered by squeezing the snow with a glove or mitten to
ascertain the degree to which it becomes sticky, or whether water can be squeezed
out of the snow. The table below specifies the qualitative and quantitative gradings.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Grading Properties Corresponding
moisture content
1 Dry Snow temperature (T) is
below 0 C. The snow is
difficult to shape
0 (blank)
2 Moist T = 0 C. Free moisture is
not discernible but the
snow is sticky and may
be shaped
< 3 |
3 Wet T = 0 C. Free moisture
between some snow
grains can be observed
through a magnifying
glass but it is not possible
to squeeze the water out
with moderate pressure
3-8 ||
4 Extremely
T = 0 C. Water can be
squeezed out with mode-
rate pressure but the snow
pores still contain an
amount of air
8-15 |||
5 Slush T = 0 C. The snow is
soaked with water and
contains little air
>15 ||||
Table 6.6 Codification of free moisture in snow
The moisture content of the snow is a factor that must be assessed in an analysis of
the snowpack. A high moisture content will weaken the bonding between the snow
crystals while an increase in moisture content following rainy weather will
contribute to increasing the weight of snow layers that have a high moisture content.
However, extremely wet snow or slush will contribute to stabilising previously
smooth surface hoar or graupel layers.
6.10 Temperature in snow layers/temperature gradient
In addition to the air temperature being measured at the profile 1.5 metres above
ground, the temperature of the various snow layers should also be measured. The
intervals are dependent upon the conditions although an interval of 20 cm is normal,
with the exception of the surface. The first measurement should be at the surface,
then at 10 cm, 30 cm, 50 cm, 70 cm, etc. Temperature measurements should be taken
in the shade. If the snowpack is isothermal (0 C) throughout the intervals should not
be measured. In the case of potentially weak layers in the snowpack, the temperature
may be measured on both the upper side and underside of the layer in order to
establish the occurrence/non occurrence of processes that could further weaken the
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
It is recommended that a digital thermometer is used to measure the temperature of
the snow. The thermometer must be calibrated. It should be possible to insert the
thermometers sensor 15 cm into the snow.
The purpose of studying the differences in the snows temperature is to determine
the snows temperature gradient. If this is more than 10 C per metre, or 1 C per 10
cm, a constructive transformation will occur, which in turn means that weak layers
will develop and become even weaker. Where it is warmer in the upper layers as the
result of solar radiation or a change in weather, this may weaken the bonds and
increase snow creep. However, when it freezes again this will lead to greater
stability. When such a thawing/freezing cycle takes place over many days on the
snow surface, faceted crystal snow can form. This may create a lasting weak layer
once it has been buried in the snowpack.
Please note that all snow thermometers should be calibrated by regulating them in
slush ice (0 C).
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Many former avalanche experts and guides are no longer
with us because avalanches do not distinguish between
personnel with or without avalanche training and expertise
this must also be taken into consideration.
7.1 Competence level and equipment
Personnel intending to work with avalanche risk assessment in the field should
always work in pairs. This is a mandatory requirement. Both parties should be
trained in the use of avalanche transceivers, probes and shovels. This equipment
must be used. The working pair should always be in possession of some form of
communication, preferably a mobile phone with coverage or a satellite telephone.
Personnel intending to work with avalanche risk assessment for military units should
have completed the avalanche assessment course at the Norwegian School of Winter
Warfare. Norwegian safety regulations also stipulates the same requirements for
personnel carrying out avalanche forecasting during exercises.
7.2 Route planning in connection with field surveys
Prior to a working pair travelling out to carry out a snow profile and avalanche risk
assessment, it is vital that a plan detailing their movements is prepared. This plan
should also be available to personnel based at a camp. The weather will often be
demanding, which may hamper navigation. Thus, it is important that preparations are
made to ensure the safest possible navigation.
When one member of the working pair is required to enter a slope in order to carry
out a snow profile it is important that his/her partner always remains on safe ground
until the party entering the slope gives the go-ahead and is confident of the stability
of the location where the profile is to be excavated. Slopes higher than 5 metres may
contain sufficient snow to bury a person so it is vital to assess the consequences of an
avalanche being triggered. In the event that you trigger an avalanche or slippage it
would be advantageous to be as high up in the avalanche as possible, i.e. you should
always enter a slope from above and never from the base. If you have a shovel at
hand, you may use it as an anchor to prevent yourself being carried downwards with
the avalanche. If, however, you are standing at the base of the mountainside or slope,
the avalanche will run over you. You should also be aware that you may trigger an
avalanche and that the avalanche can spread out into terrain that is less than 30
degrees steep, if the terrain is steeper to one of the sides, or above you. Thus, you
can expose yourself to avalanche risk in terrain that is 25 degrees steep if the slope of
the terrain somewhere is above 30 degrees on the same mountainside or slope. You
should also be aware that the snow slope may be steeper than 30 degrees, even
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
though the map may indicate that it is less than this. (ref. figure 3.3.)
!Always enter a slope as high up as possible.
7.1.1 Terrain traps
Terrain traps are areas in which the terrain will worsen the situation if an avalanche
occurs. Examples of this are where the avalanche path enters a forest, runs over cliff-
s, as well as avalanche channels with visible rock formations and stream gorges. Av-
alanche channels containing terrain traps should be avoided in respect of avalanche
risk assessment work.
Figure: 7.1
Terrain trap in a river gorge
Figure: 7.2
Terrain trap down into flat terrain
Figure: 7.3
Terrain trap over cliff/ into water/fro-
zen water
Figure: 7.4
Terrain trap into a forest
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
8.1 Factors to be assessed
Avalanche risk assessment is like a large jigsaw puzzle with many pieces missing.
Assessing the avalanche risk where you are located is relatively easy. However, very
often a forecast or a future assessment needs to be made that also covers areas where
testing and profiles have not been undertaken, but which are assumed to have similar
conditions to where a snow profile has previously been carried out. Field work also
provides other vital observations that cannot necessarily be quantified but which
represent important supplementary information. There may have been recent
avalanche activity in the area, rumblings in the snowpack, fracturing and/or slippage
in the snowpack.
Factors that must be assessed:
- Weather conditions in the preceding 3-4 days.
- Condition of the snow in the relevant areas; variations in the snowpack; how
has snow accumulation and the weather been throughout the winter?
- Lasting weak layers, as well as thickness and depth of weak layers.
- What signals (values) the stability tests produce.
- What other observations were made during field work?
- What type of weather is anticipated over the next 24-48 hours and how will it
affect the snowpack?
!Remember that you are not familiar with all factors that may
influence the avalanche risk.
8.2 Methodology
When a group is to provide an avalanche forecast for an area, the whole group must
be familiar with recent weather conditions, as well as the history of the weather. Lee
and windward sides are important. Following this, each individual working pair that
has carried out a snow profile must present their observations. These must also
include everything that has been witnessed regarding avalanche related observations
during the days field work.
A weather forecast for the period you are forecasting is vital. In this respect it is
wind, rising temperature and precipitation that are important. It should be noted that
weather forecasts from meteorologists, or meteograms apply to lowland
regions, whereas military units often move in the high mountains where the wind, in
particular, is stronger than in valleys often twice as strong as lowland winds. Also,
temperature differences mean that precipitation that has fallen as rain in lowland
regions will have fallen as snow in the mountains. In addition, at a given height snow
will change from sticky to dry something which increases the winds ability to
transport snow. Natural questions to pose are:
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
- How will the forecasted weather affect the snowpack will it make it more or
less stable?
- Will mild weather affect weak layers and, if so, to what depth?
- What is the significance of precipitation in the form of rain?
- How will strong winds affect the snowpack?
Major naturally triggered avalanches usually start high up
and descend all the way down into the valley bottom
Following this, the involved parties must be in agreement on the avalanche forecast.
Group consensus is important. Each member of the group should be heard and all
opinions are vital in order to shed as much light as possible on the prevailing
conditions. Nevertheless, experience is important and the views and opinions of the
most experienced members of the group should count the most when a forecast is
being made.
8.3 The military avalanche risk scale
The military avalanche risk scale is new as of 1st November 2008. The scale is
identical to the international avalanche risk scale but instead of making assessments
in relation to infrastructure the military scale includes supplementary provisions that
provide instructions relating to the Norwegian Armed Forces avalanche map.
Table 8.1: The Norwegian Armed Forces Avalanche Risk Scale
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
8.4 Avalanche forecast
During all exercises in which an avalanche may occur, the officer in charge of the
exercise should ensure that there is a qualified person or group that issues daily
avalanche forecasts. According to Norwegian safety regulations this person or
persons must be qualified through an avalanche hazard warning course at the
Norwegian School of Winter Warfare. During exercises at brigade level or higher an
avalanche group should be established that issues forecasts every evening that are
valid for 24 hours (ref. Norwegian safety regulations). The Norwegian Armed
Forces avalanche forecast scale should be used. The avalanche forecast should, as a
minimum, include the degree of risk, as well as the military supplementary
provisions. These should be stated verbatim (word for word). The forecast should
have a duration of 24 hours. In the event of significant changes to weather conditions
it must be possible to increase the number of avalanche forecasts before expiry of the
most recent forecast period. The avalanche forecast must reach all participating
units, right down to individual teams and patrols.
An avalanche risk is not equal everywhere. Even if a forecast
has been issued, the field commander must undertake an
independent assessment
8.4.1 Forecasting errors
One of the challenges in forecasting avalanches is the objective assessment of obser-
vations, tests and weather forecasts. To a great extent, people have a tendency to
adapt observations and elements in a way that corresponds with the picture they have
already formed, or wish to form. If a unit is to undertake a march in challenging
mountainous terrain, many preparations will have been made and expectations form-
ed. In addition, there will be a desire to carry out the mission, as well as group pres-
The avalanche forecaster or avalanche group must keep a distance from such issues
in order to be afforded the best possible basis upon which to provide as objective a
forecast as possible. If this does not happen then our knowledge and proficiency re-
garding snow and avalanches will be of little use. The avalanche forecaster must the-
refore have a definitive task quite apart from the division's operative plans, objecti-
ves and desires. Avalanche forecasting work must be transparent and must include a
quality control system. This could be, for example, a work log with conclusions and
valid forecasts on a day-to-day basis. All avalanche related observations must be re-
gistered in the log. This could include slippages, rumblings in the snow, amount of
loose snow, accumulated precipitation, etc.
Avalanche forecasts must not be based on one snow profile and one set of tests. The
avalanche risk must be determined by several profiles in all exposures, as well as
field observations and weather forecasts.
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
Figure: 8.1
The human factor and our assessment
It is vital to avoid or reduce the subjective elements of avalanche risk assessment and
that the forecaster considers the facts that are available. It is important to distinguish
between facts and an assessment.
8.5 Avalanche maps
The map series M711 to the scale of 1:50000 and with an equidistance of 20 m now
covers virtually the whole of Norway. Avalanches may be triggered down to a
gradient of 30. This corresponds to a distance of 0.7mm between the 20m contour
lines and a distance og 3.5mm between the 100m contour lines. If the distance
between height contours is less, or the same, the terrain is steep enough for an
avalanche to be triggered. This is how potential release areas are delineated on the
map. It should be noted that steep slopes lower than 30-40 metres may not be
apparent on the map. Calculations can therefore only be based on the height
difference between two contour lines, and may be inaccurate for some areas. Thus,
maps of this scale are not accurate enough to indicate the steepness of smaller slopes.
The avalanche map is based on an ordinary M711 map. However, by utilising the
NGIs (The Norwegian Geotechnical Institute) topographic model the map also
shows areas in which avalanches may occur. In addition, individual avalanche paths
are surveyed and assessed by avalanche experts. The map has been prepared for the
Norwegian Armed Forces for the planning and implementation of exercises and
should not necessarily be used for any other purpose. A total of 87 avalanche maps
have been produced, covering the areas in which the Norwegian Armed Forces
undertakes the majority of its exercises. The avalanche maps are hiking maps and are
based on the premise that an avalanche will not extend beyond Zone 2 within a 100
year period. Infrastructure maps are significantly stricter and take into account an
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
avalanche every 1,000 years. The Norwegian Armed Forces avalanche map is also
available for civilian use on the Internet,, and at An extract
of an avalanche map is shown in figure 2.43 (from 1532 IV KIRKESDALEN).
Figure: 8.2
Avalanche map
Dark red denotes terrain steeper than 30 degrees. Light red denotes the maximum
run out area. The arrow denotes a typical trail at the valley bottom that would be
closed in the event of an avalanche risk 4 being issued major avalanche risk.
8.5.1 Division of the avalanche map into zones
The map is divided into the following zones:
- Zone I: Avalanche release area
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
- Zone II: Avalanche run out area (based on 100 years of avalanches)
Zone I
Zone 1 is indicated by the contour lines on the map and is marked where the distance
between 20 m contour lines is 0.7 mm or less, i.e. 30 or steeper and not in dense
forest. The terrain is steep enough for an avalanche to be triggered. Some steep areas
have been omitted because the forest is so dense that the likelihood of an avalanche
is considered minor (according to surveys).
Zone II
Terrain that lies beneath release areas and which can be reached by an avalanche.
Zone II is indicated as the result of a method of calculation of how far an avalanche
may extend, based on experience of a large number of avalanche paths (NGIs
topographic model).
8.5.2 Limitations of the avalanche map
The map only shows release areas that can be identified on the basis of contour lines.
Thus, avalanches may occur on smaller slopes that are not marked on the map. In
stream valleys the height difference is often less than 40 metres and will generally
not appear on the map. However, in such valleys there are often snow conditions that
pose an increased avalanche risk. Neither does the map provide information on
avalanche frequency. In some areas avalanches occur every year while in other areas
many years may elapse between avalanches.
8.5.3 Using the avalanche map
Avalanche maps are well suited to the planning of exercises and route selection.
When an exercise is being planned, consideration must be given to the map's limita-
tions and how it was formulated. Due to the prevailing wind direction, there may be
an absence of snow on certain mountainsides. It may therefore be safe to walk on
such mountainsides even though the chosen route falls within Zone 1 or Zone 2 on
the avalanche map. It should be noted that even though the mountainside may appear
free of snow, there could still be snow in gorges and stream valleys on the mountain-
side. If there is any doubt as to whether such snow may loosen, personnel should se-
lect an alternative route.
Local experts may also provide useful information about where avalanches normally
occur. It is therefore sensible to mark avalanche channels where local experts have
stated avalanches have previously occurred. Thus, declarations about safe moun-
tainsides should be regarded with scepticism if the shape of the terrain and the gra-
dient indicate the possibility of an avalanche occurring.
8.6 Establishing an avalanche group
An assessment of possible avalanche risk should commence when the planning of
the field training exercise has progressed to a point where the training ground has
been determined. Initially, the avalanche risk assessment should be based on the
avalanche map. The assessment should be followed up with a reconnaissance of bare
ground. The responsibility for carrying out the avalanche assessment will be
assigned to the officer who plans and is in charge of the exercise. The technical
responsibility should be assigned to an individual who has received special
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
avalanche training. The avalanche risk assessment is given to the officer in charge of
the exercise and constitutes a recommendation. The forecast should not be prepared
or transcribed by any other staff member. Even if an avalanche group is established,
it is important to emphasis that other personnel on the ground are not exempt from
making continuous local avalanche risk assessments in the area in which they are
moving. Usually, units carrying out exercises should not moderate the stipulated
forecast. However, if the local commander assesses the avalanche risk to be higher,
he/she may escalate the forecast issued by the avalanche group.
8.6.1 Organisation of an avalanche group
With larger field service exercises at brigade level or higher, a separate avalanche
group should be established. The manning requirements of the avalanche group are
dependant on the training grounds geographic area and the number of participating
units, and are stipulated for each individual exercise. The avalanche group should
comprise a minimum of 2 patrols in addition to the group commander. During larger
exercises, civilian avalanche experts should reinforce the avalanche group so that it
comprises 3 to 4 patrols. The commander of the avalanche group should report di-
rectly to the officer in charge of the exercise. The avalanche group is linked admini-
stratively to the officer in charge of the exercise.
8.6.2 Duties and responsibilities of an avalanche group
Below are listed typical duties and responsibilities of an avalanche group:
- Procurement of information concerning avalanche risk
- Adaptation of information
- Preparation of avalanche forecasts 1 to 2 times per day. Ensuring that the initi-
al avalanche forecast reaches the respective units before they arrive at the trai-
ning ground
- Providing avalanche training to foreign units upon request
- Rendering assistance in an avalanche accident in the form of advice regarding
the potential risk of further avalanches occurring at the accident site, and also
in the selection of a safe route in and out of the area
- Participating in the planning of the exercise by the officer in charge, if requi-
- The avalanche group commander must/should attend a daily briefing for ma-
nagement and observers/controllers
- The avalanche forecast must be given high priority. One avalanche forecast
should be issued for the entire training ground (may be waived in the event
that the training ground covers several distinct climatic areas)
8.6.3 Avalanche group equipment and materiel
The avalanche group should possess the following equipment:
- Means of communication, satellite telephones
- Avalanche probes
- Shovels
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
- Transcievers
- 4x4 vehicles with trailers
- 2 Snowmobiles for each patrol
- Use of a helicopter
- Temperature gauge
- Raster plates
- Snow profile forms
- PC with Internet access
- Tent/Jerven bag
- Cooking stove
- Alpine skis, boots and poles
- Snow saw
- Rutch block saw
UD 6-81-8E Instruction in Winter Service - Snow Awareness
A.1 Main and subclasses of grain shapes
Morphological classification Additional information on physical processes and strength
Subclass Shape Code Place of formation Physical process Dependence on most
important parameters
Common effect on strength
Precipitation Particles PP
Prismatic crystal, solid or
PPco Cloud;
temperature inversion
layer (clear sky)
Growth from water vapour at 3 to
8C and below30C
approximately cylindrical
PPnd Cloud Growth from water vapour at high
super-saturation at 3 to 5C and
below 60C
Plate-like, mostly hexagonal PPpl Cloud;
temperature inversion
layer (clear sky)
Growth from water vapour at
0 to 3C and 8 to 70C
Six-fold star-like, planar or
PPsd Cloud;
temperature inversion
layer (clear sky)
Growth from water vapour at high
supersaturation at 0 to 3C and at
12 to 16C
Irregular crystals
Clusters of very small crystals PPir Cloud Polycrystals growing in varying
environmental conditions
Heavily rimed particles,
spherical, conical, hexagonal
or irregular in shape
PPgp Cloud Heavy riming of particles by
accretion of supercooled water droplets
Size: 5 mm
Laminar internal structure,
translucent or milky glazed
PPhl Cloud Growth by accretion of supercooled
Size: >5 mm
Ice pellets
Transparent, mostly small
PPip Cloud Freezing of raindrops or refreezing of
largely melted snow crystals or
snowflakes (sleet)
Graupel or snow pellets encased in
thin ice layer (small hail)
Size: both 5 mm
Irregular deposits or longer
cones and needles pointing
into the wind
PPrm Onto surface as well
as on freely exposed
Accretion of small, supercooled fog
droplets frozen in place.
Thin breakable crust forms on snow
surface if process continues long
Increase with fog density and
exposure to wind
Notes: Diamond dust is a further type of precipitation often observed in polar regions (see Appendix E).
Hard rime is more compact and amorphous than soft rime and may build out as glazed cones or ice feathers (AMS, 2000).
The above subclasses do not cover all types of particles and crystals one may observe in the atmosphere. See the references below for a more comprehensive coverage.
References: Magono & Lee, 1966; Bailey & Hallett, 2004; Dovgaluk & Pershina. 2005; Libbrecht, 2005
I H P - V I I T e c h n i c a l D o c u m e n t s i n H y d r o l o g y N 8 3
I A C S C o n t r i b u t i o n N 1
U N E S C O , P a r i s , 2 0 0 9
* *
Morphological classification Additional information xon physical processes and strength
Subclass Shape Code Place of formation Physical process Dependence on most
important parameters
Common effect on strength
Machine Made
Small spherical particles,
often showing protrusions,
a result of the freezing process;
may be partially hollow
MMrp Atmosphere, near
Machined snow, i.e., freezing of very
small water droplets from the surface
Liquid water content depends
mainly on air temperature
and humidity but also on
snow density and grain size
In dry conditions, quick sinter-
ing results in rapid strength
ice particles
Ice plates, shard-like MMci Ice generators Machined ice, i.e., production of flake
ice, subsequent crushing, and
pneumatic distribution
All weather safe
References: Fauve et al., 2002
Decomposing and
Characteristic shapes of
precipitation particles still
recognizable; often partly
DFdc Within the snowpack;
recently deposited
snow near the
surface, usually dry
Decrease of surface area to reduce
surface free energy; also fragmentation
due to light winds lead to initial
break up
Speed of decomposition
decreases with decreasing
snow temperatures and
decreasing temperature
Regains cohesion by sintering
after initial strength decreased
due to decomposition process
Shards or fragments of
precipitation particles
DFbk Surface layer, mostly
recently deposited
Saltation particles are fragmented and
packed by wind, often closely;
fragmentation often followed by
Fragmentation and packing
increase with wind speed
Quick sintering results in rapid
strength increase
Morphological classification Additional information xon physical processes and strength
Subclass Shape Code Place of formation Physical process Dependence on most
important parameters
Common effect on strength
Small rounded
Rounded, usually elongated
particles of size < 0.25 mm;
highly sintered
RGsr Within the snowpack;
dry snow
Decrease of specific surface area by
slow decrease of number of grains
and increase of mean grain diameter.
Small equilibrium growth form
Growth rate increases with
increasing temperature;
growth slower in high
density snow with smaller
Strength due to sintering of the
snow grains [1]. Strength
increases with time, settlement
and decreasing grain size
Large rounded
Rounded, usually elongated
particles of size 0.25 mm;
well sintered
RGlr Within the snowpack;
dry snow
Grain-to-grain vapour diffusion due to
low temperature gradients, i.e., mean
excess vapour density remains below
critical value for kinetic growth.
Large equilibrium growth form
Same as above Same as above
Wind packed
Small, broken or abraded,
closely-packed particles;
well sintered
RGwp Surface layer;
dry snow
Packing and fragmentation of wind
transported snow particles that round
off by interaction with each other in
the saltation layer. Evolves into either
a hard but usually breakable wind
crust or a thicker wind slab.
(see notes)
Hardness increases with wind
speed, decreasing particle size
and moderate temperature
High number of contact points
and small size causes rapid
strength increase through
rounded particles
Rounded, usually elongated
particles with developing facets
RGxf Within the snowpack;
dry snow
Growth regime changes if mean excess
vapour density is larger than critical
value for kinetic growth. Accordingly,
this transitional form develops facets
as temperature gradient increases
Grains are changing in
response to an increasing
temperature gradient
Reduction in number of bonds
may decrease strength
Notes: Both wind crusts and wind slabs are layers of small, broken or abraded, closely packed and well-sintered particles. The former are thin irregular layers whereas the latter are thicker, often dense layers, usually
found on lee slopes. Both types of layers can be represented either as sub-class RGwp or as RGsr along with proper grain size, hardness and/or density.
If the grains are smaller than about 1 mm, an observer will need to consider the process at work to differentiate RGxf from FCxr.
References: [1] Colbeck, 1997
Morphological classification Additional information xon physical processes and strength
Subclass Shape Code Place of formation Physical process Dependence on most
important parameters
Common effect on strength
Grain-to-grain vapour diffusion driven
by large enough temperature gradient,
i.e., excess vapour density is above
critical value for kinetic growth
Solid faceted
Solid faceted crystals; usually
hexagonal prisms
FCso Within the snowpack;
dry snow
Solid kinetic growth form, i.e., a solid
crystal with sharp edges and corners
as well as glassy, smooth faces
Growth rate increases with
temperature, increasing
temperature gradient, and
decreasing density; may not
grow to larger grains in
high density snow because
of small pores
Strength decreases with
increasing growth rate and
grain size
Near surface
faceted particles
Faceted crystals in surface
FCsf Within the snowpack
but right beneath the
dry snow
May develop directly from
Precipitation Particles (PP) or
Decomposing and Fragmented particles
(DFdc) due to large, near-surface
temperature gradients [1]
Solid kinetic growth form (see FCso
above) at early stage of development
Temperature gradient may
periodically change sign but
remains at a high absolute
Low strength snow
Rounding faceted
Faceted crystals with rounding
facets and corners
FCxr Within the snowpack;
dry snow
Trend to a transitional form reducing
its specific surface area; corners and
edges of the crystals are rounding off
Grains are rounding off in
response to a decreasing
temperature gradient
Notes: Once buried, FCsf are hard to distinguish from FCso unless the observer is familiar with the evolution of the snowpack
FCxr can usually be clearly identified for crystals larger than about 1 mm. In case of smaller grains, however, an observer will need to consider the process at work to differentiate FCxr from RGxf.
References: [1] Birkeland, 1998
Morphological classification Additional information xon physical processes and strength
Subclass Shape Code Place of formation Physical process Dependence on most
important parameters
Common effect on strength
Depth Hoar
Grain-to-grain vapour diffusion driven
by large temperature gradient, i.e.,
excess vapour density is well above
critical value for kinetic growth.
Hollow cups
Striated, hollow skeleton type
crystals; usually cup-shaped
DHcp Within the snowpack;
dry snow
Formation of hollow or partly solid
cup-shaped kinetic growth crystals [1]
See FCso. Usually fragile but strength
increases with density
Hollow prisms
Prismatic, hollow skeleton type
crystals with glassy faces but
few striations
DHpr Within the snowpack;
dry snow
Snow has completely recrystallized;
high temperature gradient in low
density snow, most often prolonged [2]
High recrystallization rate
for long period and low
density snow facilitates
May be very poorly bonded
Chains of
depth hoar
Hollow skeleton type crystals
arranged in chains
DHch Within the snowpack;
dry snow
Snow has completely recrystallized;
intergranular arrangement in chains;
most of the lateral bonds between
columns have disappeared during
crystal growth
High recrystallization rate
for long period and low
density snow facilitates
Very fragile snow
Large striated
Large, heavily striated crystals;
either solid or skeleton type
DHla Within the snowpack;
dry snow
Evolves from earlier stages described
above; some bonding occurs as new
crystals are initiated [2]
Longer time required than
for any other snow crystal;
long periods of large
temperature gradient in low
density snow are needed
Regains strength
depth hoar
Hollow skeleton type crystals
with rounding of sharp edges,
corners, and striations
DHxr Within the snowpack;
dry snow
Trend to a form reducing its specific
surface area; corners and edges of the
crystals are rounding off; faces may
lose their relief, i.e., striations and
steps disappear slowly. This process
affects all subclasses of depth hoar
Grains are rounding off in
response to a decreasing
temperature gradient
May regain strength
Notes: DH and FC crystals may also grow in snow with density larger than about 300 kg m
such as found in polar snowpacks or wind slabs. These may then be termed 'hard or 'indurated depth hoar [3].
References: [1] Akitaya, 1974; Marbouty, 1980; Fukuzawa & Akitaya, 1993; Baunach et al., 2001; Sokratov, 2001; [2] Sturm & Benson, 1997; [3] Akitaya, 1974; Benson & Sturm, 1993
Morphological classification Additional information xon physical processes and strength
Subclass Shape Code Place of formation Physical process Dependence on most
important parameters
Common effect on strength
Surface Hoar SH
Surface hoar
Striated, usually flat crystals;
sometimes needle-like
SHsu Usually on cold snow
surface relative to air
sometimes on freely
exposed objects above
the surface (see notes)
Rapid kinetic growth of crystals at the
snow surface by rapid transfer of water
vapour from the atmosphere toward
the snow surface; snow surface cooled
to below ambient temperature by
radiative cooling
Both increased cooling of the
snow surface below air
temperature as well as
increasing relative humidity
of the air cause growth rate
to increase.In high water
vapour gradient fields, e.g.,
near creeks, large feathery
crystals may develop
Fragile, extremely low shear
strength; strength may remain
low for extended periods when
buried in cold dry snow
Cavity or
crevasse hoar
Striated, planar or hollow
skeleton type crystals grown in
cavities; orientation often
SHcv Cavity hoar is found
in large voids in the
snow, e.g., in the
vicinity of tree trunks,
buried bushes [1]
Crevasse hoar is found
in any large cooled
space such as
crevasses, cold storage
rooms, boreholes, etc.
kinetic growth of crystals forming
anywhere where a cavity, i.e., a large
cooled space, is formed or present in
which water vapour can be deposited
under calm, still conditions [2]
surface hoar
Surface hoar crystal with rounding
of sharp edges, corners and stria-
SHxr Within the snowpack;
dry snow
Trend to a form reducing its specific
surface area; corners and edges of the
crystals are rounding off; faces may
lose their relief, i.e., striations and
steps disappear slowly
Grains are rounding off in
response to a decreasing
temperature gradient
May regain strength
Notes: It may be of interest to note more precisely the shape of hoar crystals, namely plates, cups, scrolls, needles and columns, dendrites, or composite forms [3]. Multi-day growth may also be specified.
Surface hoar may form by advection of nearly saturated air on both freely exposed objects and the snow surface at subfreezing temperatures. This type of hoarfrost deposit makes up a substantial part of
accumulation in the inland of Antarctica. It has been termed 'air hoar (see [2] and [4]).
Crevasse hoar crystals are very similar to depth hoar.
References: [1] Akitaya, 1974; [2] Seligman, 1936; [3] Jamieson & Schweizer, 2000; [4] AMS, 2000
Morphological classification Additional information xon physical processes and strength
Subclass Shape Code Place of formation Physical process Dependence on most
important parameters
Common effect on strength
Melt Forms MF
rounded grains
Clustered rounded crystals held
by large ice-to-ice bonds; water
in internal veins among three
crystals or two grain boundaries
MFcl At the surface or
within the snowpack;
wet snow
Wet snow at low water content
(pendular regime), i.e., holding free
liquid water; clusters form to minimize
surface free energy
Meltwater can drain; too
much water leads to MFsl;
first freezing leads to MFpc
Ice-to-ice bonds give strength
Individual crystals are frozen
into a solid polycrystalline
particle, either wet or refrozen
MFpc At the surface or
within the snowpack
Melt-freeze cycles form polycrystals
when water in veins freezes; either wet
at low water content (pendular regime)
or refrozen
Particle size increases with
number of melt-freeze cycles;
radiation penetration may
restore MFcl; excess water
leads to MFsl
High strength in the frozen state;
lower strength in the wet state;
strength increases with number
of melt-freeze cycles
Separated rounded particles
completely immersed in water
MFsl Water-saturated,
soaked snow; found
within the snowpack,
on land or ice
surfaces, but also as
a viscous floating
mass in water after
heavy snowfall.
Wet snow at high liquid water content
(funicular regime); poorly bonded, fully
rounded single crystals and
polycrystals form as ice and water are
in thermodynamic equilibrium
Water drainage blocked by
capillary barrier, impermeable
layer or ground; high
energy input to the snow-
pack by solar radiation,
high air temperature or
water input (rain)
Little strength due to decaying
Melt-freeze crust
Crust of recognizable melt-freeze
MFcr At the surface Crust of melt-freeze polycrystals from
a surface layer of wet snow that refroze
after having been wetted by melt or
rainfall; found either wet or refrozen
Particle size and density
increases with number of
melt-freeze cycles
Strength increases with number
of melt-freeze cycles
Notes: Melt-freeze crusts MFcr form at the surface as layers at most a few centimetres thick, usually on top of a subfreezing snowpack. Rounded polycrystals MFpc will rather form within the snowpack. MFcr usually
contain more refrozen water than MFpc and will not return to MFcl.
Both MFcr and MFpc may contain a recognizable minority of other shapes, particularly large kinetic growth form FC and DH. See the guidelines (Appendix C) for examples on the use of the MFcr symbol.
Morphological classification Additional information xon physical processes and strength
Subclass Shape Code Place of formation Physical process Dependence on most
important parameters
Common effect on strength
Ice layer
Horizontal ice layer IFil Within the snowpack Rain or meltwater from the surface
percolates into cold snow where it
refreezes along layer-parallel capillary
barriers by heat conduction into
surrounding subfreezing snow, i.e.,
snow at T< 0C; ice layers usually
retain some degree of permeability
Depends on timing of
percolating water and cycles
of melting and refreezing;
more likely to occur if a
stratification of fine over
coarse-grained layers exists
Ice layers are strong but strength
decays once snow is completely
Ice column
Vertical ice body IFic Within snowpack
Draining water within flow fingers
freezes by heat conduction into
surrounding subfreezing snow, i.e.,
snow at T< 0C
Flow fingers more likely to
occur if snow is highly
stratified; freezing enhanced
if snow is very cold
Basal ice
Basal ice layer IFbi Base of snowpack Melt water ponds above substrate and
freezes by heat conduction into cold
Formation enhanced if
substrate is impermeable
and very cold, e.g.,
Weak slush layer may form on
Rain crust
Thin, transparent glaze or clear
film of ice on the surface
IFrc At the surface Results from freezing rain on snow;
forms a thin surface glaze
Droplets have to be
supercooled but coalesce
before freezing
Thin breakable crust
Sun crust,
Thin, transparent and shiny
glaze or clear film of ice on the
IFsc At the surface Melt water from a surface snow layer
refreezes at the surface due to radiative
cooling; decreasing shortwave
absorption in the forming glaze
enhances greenhouse effect in the
underlying snow; additional water
vapour may condense below the
glaze [1]
Builds during clear weather,
air temperatures below
freezing and strong solar
radiation; not to be confused
with melt-freeze crust MFcr
Thin breakable crust
Notes: In ice formations, pores usually do not connect and no individual grains or particles are recognizable, contrary to highly porous snow. Nevertheless, some permeability remains, in particular when wetted, but to
much a lesser degree than for porous melt forms.
Most often, rain and solar radiation cause the formation of melt-freeze crusts MFcr.
Discontinuous ice bodies such as ice lenses or refrozen flow fingers can be identified by appropriate remarks (see Appendix C.2).
References: [1] Ozeki & Akitaya, 1998
Observation site(Name,Chart No., Date Time Snowprof. no Elevation
UTM coord.) in meters
Air temp Weather notations Terrain slope at chute Slope direction
C Ca
Avalanche risk assessment Special observations (for ex. Avalanches in the area)
Sign explanation: Ts:Snow temp K:Hardness Z:Distance form ground D:Grain size O:Density
T C 20 18 16 14 12 8 6 4 2
Z D O Notes:
K6 5 4 3 2 1 cm kg/m3 (Ex.Sliding
(lce) (Knife) (Pensil) (1 finger) (4 fingers) (Fist) layers and
Bl 0289B (Utg 12-2010) ENG