Online Climbers Avalanche Course

Module 5 Description - Avalanche Snowpack

Main Course Description Page

Select Feedback (from the Level 1 version)

This feedback is from the full Level 1 course which has been available longer and served more students. As we obtain more feedback from the Climbers Awareness class we will update this. Comments on topics not covered in this course have been omitted below.

  • The average student rating for this module, out of 10, is: 8.5
  • The average student rating for this module in relation to others, out of 10, is: 7.8
  • The percentage of students who felt all objectives were met is: 100%
  • Select Student Comments:
    • The objectives were met and retained more effectively than in the traditional 2 day field course.
    • Thought having the videos was brilliant. Great way to illustrate points.
    • The whole concept of visco-elasticity became so clear.
    • Another well put together module.
    • The photos/drawings were definitely helpful!
    • The real world examples used (rather than made up examples) were good.
    • Pictures and descriptions from various mountain regions are interesting.
    • The main point was emphasized well.


This is Module 5 of the Climbers Avalanche Awareness Class developed and supported by AlpenProOpens in New Window and offered here in the Avalanche InstituteOpens in New Window. This is the only module on the mountain snowpack in the Climbers Course curriculum.

The only prerequisite for this module is Module 1 - Preliminary (or Background) Material. This module is a prerequisite the final one on planning a safe climb.

The module covers the basic nature and features of the mountain (inclined) snowpack, introduces some of the properties of snow, reviews snow hazards and how they vary, and describes basic observations to be made. The emphasis is on introductory and applied topics with a little background theory to provide insight and understanding and to build a basis for further studies.


  • Describe the characteristics of a mountain snowpack
  • Explain melt-freeze metamorphism and it’s implications for the spring snowpack
  • Explain how snow is viscoelastic and when it more viscous or more elastic
  • Define creep and glide and explain the difference
  • Understand the effects of elevation and aspect on spring snow
  • Be aware of the major snow related hazards in spring
  • List snow observations that can be made before and during a spring climb


This module covers three general topics:

  • Introduction to the Mountain Snowpack
  • Properties and Behaviors of Snow
  • Basic Observations

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


Welcome, Instructions

The Mountain Snowpack

  • Layering
  • Stresses and Strain

Properties and Behaviors of Snow

  • Gravity on the Snowpack
  • Glide
  • Viscous vs Elastic Behavior
  • Creep
  • Melt-Freeze Metamorphism
  • Aspect and Elevation
  • Spring snow hazards

Basic Observations

  • What to Look For
  • Before the Trailhead
  • Field Observations


  • Review
  • Learning More
  • Evaluation

Human and technical Resources

This module has complete access to human resources and technical support. There are numerous ways to contact an instructor and to interact with other students. The module has its own forum for questions and discussion, there is a dropbox for sending documents (including messages) to other students in the module and/or an instructor, there is a messaging system accessed from the top of the web interface, and there is always email.

Major web browsers are supported, others - including phones - are not. At least officially. Find a computer and a good place to study without distractions. If you encounter technical problems with Dokeos or with a major browser we will address the problem promptly. If we are unable to we will offer a refund.

We will note that some students have been able to use a phone for our courses or parts of them. It may work. We just will not guarantee it.


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 passing score or just to attempt to ultimately get a perfect score.

Quizzes are taken and scored online.

Successful completion of this module requires passing all assessments.

Course material

Most of the materials in this module were created specifically for this course. Some diagrams originated in the AlpenPro workbook used in traditional courses and some come from the Avalanche Center website.

There is a workbook which can be printed in pieces as the student progresses through the course. These contain primarily copies of diagrams and figures used online as well as space for taking any notes. There may be a limited amount of additional material in the workbook which is not presented online. The workbook is provided so that students who print it will have a reference following the course, it supplements the course and is not a stand-alone book.