An aggressive slash across the top of a slope to test for or mitigate against shallow instabilities.

The results of a ski cut across the top of start zone. Credit: Flathead Avalanche Center

A ski cut (on skis) or slope cut (on snowboard or snowmachine) is an intentional and aggressive maneuver across the top of a slope used to test for shallow instabilities before committing to the entire slope. Although slope cuts have inherent dangers, when properly executed they can be effective tools for managing soft and shallow avalanche hazards. A good slope cut requires 1) enough speed to escape from any avalanches triggered and 2) a safe exit zone where an avalanche crown won’t propagate into, such as dense trees or a lower slope angle. Slope cuts into broad start zones or above terrain traps are riskier. Slope cuts are ineffective and riskier for testing deeper instabilities. Slope cuts should only be practiced by experienced riders, and in many cases parties will use a roped belay to increase the safety margin for a slope cut.