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Splitboarding Education Series

Quick Tips: Snow Pits & Compression Testing

Video: Simon Coward

Hey there, Simon here from Splitboard HQ, the snow has finally arrived, and it's time to dust off our gear and get into the backcountry. Today, we'll walk through the basics of digging a snow pit and conducting a simple compression test.

Selecting a Representative Slope

Since there's not a lot of beta out there yet, we've chosen a representative slope with the same aspect, elevation, and steepness as our intended route. This initial check will serve multiple purposes, including reacquainting ourselves with our gear.

Preparing for the Snow Pit

Before we start digging, it's crucial to organize our equipment. Skis, poles, and bags should be upright and out of the way to prevent them from getting buried. Keeping things tidy is a good habit that makes the process smoother and safer.

Tools of the Trade

For digging a snow pit, we'll need:

  • Shovel
  • Probe
  • Saw (optional but helpful)

Ensure your bag is closed to prevent snow from getting inside. Being organized and prepared will make the task more efficient.

Digging the Snow Pit

Probing for Consistency

We begin by using our probe to find a consistent depth of undisturbed snow. Avoid areas with shallow rocks or trees, as they can impact the accuracy of our pit. Once we find a suitable spot, we'll start digging and excavating snow downhill.

The Digging Process

Using a hoe shovel can help move soft snow quickly. The goal is to clear enough space to dig to the ground without making the task harder than it needs to be. Professionals might approach this with scientific precision, but for us, it's about matching the snow conditions with the bulletin.

Observing Snow Layers

As we dig, we can already gather some information. The top snow layer is often soft, with more consolidated slabs below and sugary snow at the bottom. This initial observation helps us understand the snowpack's structure.

Conducting a Simple Compression Test

Building the Column

We create a column approximately 30x30x30 centimeters using our saw. This size is manageable and gives us a clear sample to test. Ensuring the column is isolated from the snowpack is crucial for accurate results.

Performing the Test

Flatten the top of the column and perform 10 taps from the wrist, 10 from the elbow, and 10 from the shoulder. We observe if the column drops (settlement) or slides (fracture). This test provides insight into the snow's stability.

Interpreting Results

During our test, we might see non-planar fractures in the storm snow or a significant drop indicating a slab settling on facets. These observations help us assess the snowpack's stability and potential avalanche risk.

Safety and Etiquette

Remember, this process is for educational and recreational purposes, not for making critical decisions. Always refer to professional forecasts and guidelines. Lastly, fill in your snow pit after use to ensure safety for others. A filled pit prevents accidents for those who might ski over it.