What's it like after an avalanche?
February 6, 2010 7:27 PM   Subscribe

I was up in the mountains this morning and got curious about avalanches. Specifically: has anyone skied (or ridden) post-avalanche snow? Does it act like powder, hard-pack, or something totally different? Bonus points if anyone's done this in the Tahoe area.
posted by hammurderer to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think it varies. Obviously some avalanches are new snow, but you can get avalanches of old snow, or even of ice.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:51 PM on February 6, 2010

I have not ridden post-avalanche snow, but I don't think you'd want to. It sets up like concrete. The heat generated by all that friction partially melts the snow/ice, and then it refreezes once it comes to a stop.
posted by huckit at 8:43 PM on February 6, 2010

It's doubtful you could ski such snow. After multiple practice sessions of probing and shoveling in pretend avalanche run-out, a friend and I climbed some genuine avalanche debris. It consisted of boulder-size chunks that required leaping and scrambling, and it was hard enough to make digging extremely difficult, even with a metal shovel.

More experienced avalanche rescue personnel tell me it is not quite so hard in the immediate aftermath of the slide, that it continues to harden over time. And perhaps there are different consistencies associated with the various types of avalanche. Nonetheless I think it would be impossible to ski most slides.

And if you're going to try, please first make sure that all possible snow above you has already released. You don't want to be in the path of another slide.
posted by wjm at 3:08 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have skied in post-avalanche snow. It sucks. Big time. There are large, consolidated chunks of snow that can deflect your skis rather violently. It might be less an issue for a boarder, but I only ski. In the Tahoe area, the snow has a lot of water in it, so depending on the weather patterns, they might be VERY firm.
The previous comments are accurate as well.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 11:11 AM on February 7, 2010

If it's sluff (small, point release)- it's not bad. It's mostly just powdery with a chunk here and there.

A big avalanche is a huge pain to ski through. Since the slab that came crashing down was most likely a giant sheet of hard snow/ice that has now crumbled into 1-3 feet size segments, it's damn near impossible to get a clean ride down.

Personal anecdote: After getting down through part of an avalanche (two days after it released!) we gave up, and hiked/slid on our shovels the rest of the way down. There was just no way to get down on skis easily. Also skiing through and around giant chunks of ice just gave us the heebie-jeebies. It's just flat out terrifying to ski under a giant 3 foot chunk of snow/ice sticking out of a lovely slope. We were thrilled to be in trees again.
posted by larthegreat at 7:59 PM on February 7, 2010

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