Module Description - Snowpack

Course Overview - Registration

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 ClassOpens in New Window 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 Awareness 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. It may also be a prerequisite for any optional climber-specific field days offered or special advanced topics.

The module covers the basic nature and features of the mountain (inclined) snowpack, introduces some of the properties of snow, and describes basic non-snowpit 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 how different layers form in a mountain snowpack
  • List some of the reasons for spatial variation on the snow surface
  • Explain how snow is visco-elastic and when it is more viscous or more elastic
  • Define creep and glide and explain the difference
  • List snow observations that can be made without a snowpit
  • List and describe several “on the go” structure and stability checks


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
  • Variability in Space and Time

Properties and Behaviors of Snow

  • Gravity on the Snowpack
  • Glide
  • Viscous vs Elastic Behavior
  • Creep

Basic Observations

  • General "Big Picture" Observations
  • Before the Trailhead
  • Observed Avalanches
  • Active Tests
  • Below the Surface
  • Context and Limitations


  • Review

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.


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 included in this module are from a workbook developed and used by AlpenPro. A few items are from the Avalanche Center website. Links are provided to external resources where appropriate.