Online Level 1 Avalanche Course

Module 5 Description - Avalanche Snowpack 1

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    • The objectives were met and retained more effectively than in the traditional 2 day field course.
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    • 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.
    • Interesting information that was presented in a way to keep you engaged.


This is Module 5 of the Level 1 Avalanche Class developed and supported by AlpenPro and offered here in the Avalanche Institute. This is the first of two modules on the mountain snowpack in the Level 1 curriculum.

The only prerequisite for this module is Module 1 - Preliminary (or Background) Material. It is a prerequisite for the first Level 1 field day, the Snowpack 2 module, and some advanced modules beyond Level 1.

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
  • Characterize maritime vs. continental “snow climates”
  • Differentiate between new snow weaknesses and persistent weaknesses
  • Explain what surface hoar is and the conditions under which it forms
  • Explain how snow is visco-elastic and when it is more viscous or more elastic
  • Define creep and glide and explain the difference
  • Explain why convexities are often trigger points for slab avalanches
  • List snow observations that can be made without a snowpit
  • List and describe several “on the go” structure and stability checks
  • List some of the reasons for spatial variation on the snow surface


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
  • Climate and Snowpack
  • Surface Hoar

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.