Snow and Avalanche Center Awareness, Module 2 - Objective Factors

Module Description - Objective Factors

Course Overview - Registration


This is the second module of the General Avalanche Awareness ClassOpens in New Window developed and supported by AlpenPro Opens in New Window and offered here in the Avalanche InstituteOpens in New Window. This module covers the objective factors of weather, snowpack and terrain. Each of these factors is further broken down into a few key topics.

These factors are objective because we must take them as they exist, we have no control over these things. How we incorporate these factors into our planning and decision making is subjective and will differ from person to person and group to group. Subjective aspects of avalanche safety are covered in the next two modules. However, to make an informed plan or decision the objective factors must be understood.

This module corresponds loosely to the material and the format of the far more extensive Level 1 course, and is to some extent a small subset of that. The additional topics in Level 1 are described at the end of the module for those that are interested.

In our Level 1 Avalanche CourseOpens in New Window each of these factors - weather, terrain and snowpack - have their own extensive modules which go into much more detail. (Snowpack even has two modules.) Our Climbers ClassOpens in New Window discusses these factors specifically within spring conditions. We are also constantly considering new stand-alone modules on specific specialized topics outside the scope of our regular course curricula.


Weather Section:

  • List the three key categories of observables
  • List two or three actual parameters of importance within each observable category
  • Explain why these parameters are important
  • Describe the differences in typical winter weather between different climate zones
  • Locate and interpret appropriate weather forecast products

Snowpack Section:

  • Describe how the two components of gravity affect the inclined snowpack
  • Describe how some of the different layers in a mountain snowpack form
  • Characterize, generally,  maritime vs. continental snowpacks
  • Differentiate between new snow weaknesses and persistent weaknesses
  • Explain what surface hoar is and why it is dangerous when buried
  • List snow observations that can be made without a snowpit

Terrain Section:

  • Understand terrain and consequences, including the role of the danger scale
  • List and describe some of the key properties and indicators of avalanche terrain
  • Identify obvious active avalanche paths and terrain traps
  • Recognize starting zones and run-out areas


This module covers three general topics:

  • Weather
  • Snowpack
  • Terrain

Each of these is broken down further into sub-topics, the Outline on this page shows more detail.


Module Introduction


     Wind, Energy, Precipitation
     Wind Transport of Snow
     Distribution of Windblown Snow

     Radiational Energy Balance

     Types of Precipitation
     New Snow

     Weather Forecasts

     Looking Ahead


     Gravity on the Snowpack
     Snowpack Layering
     The Mountain Snowpack
     Climate and Snowpack
     Surface Hoar
     Basic Observations
     Looking Ahead


     The Danger Scale and Consequences
     Snowpack Climate and Consequences
     Terrain and Consequences

     Slope Parameters
     Measuring Slope Angle


     Case Study #1
     Case Study #2
     Workbook Case Studies

     Looking Ahead

Module Summary
Evaluation and Feedback

Human and technical Resources

This awareness course is not designed to require the kind of human resources our Level 1 course and Climbers course involve. All assessments in this course are online and instantly checked automatically, nothing is ever submitted to any instructor.

This module has limited access to human resources but full technical support. There are some limited ways to contact an instructor and to interact with other students.

You can find tools for human interaction in "Module 0", including forums where you can post comments or questions for any part of this course. Each module has a Dropbox feature for sending files to anyone currently in the course.

While we provide minimal instructional human resources we do want to address any technical questions or problems as quickly as possible. In this case contact us using the Dropbox or on the forum.


There are quizzes incorporated into this course which allow students to check their understanding of the material. Quizzes may be taken as many times as desired, either to obtain a higher score or to attempt to ultimately get a perfect score.

Quizzes are all taken and scored online automatically.

Successful completion of this module requires taking all assessments but there are no minimum score requirements to continue to the next step in the learning path.



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