Whether you are new to the backcountry, or a seasoned professional, the Avalanche Forecast is a public safety product that aims to make a complex subject – such as avalanche conditions – as easy to understand as possible.  The information in the forecast is set up as simple summary messaging progressing to more nuanced, detailed, or specific information.

The first and most basic component of the Forecast is the Bottom Line.  Forecasters try to write this section for everyone, regardless of avalanche knowledge. The Bottom Line gives you simple information about 3 basic avalanche questions: What is it, where is it, and what should you do about it? Think of it as a soundbite, or a summary of the most important information of the day. 

The Avalanche Danger Rating comes next. This section gives you an idea of how dangerous avalanche conditions are at different elevation bands. For example, in this view (scenario 1 visual) ….. And in this view (Scenario 2 visual) …..The avalanche danger rating is not slope-specific – it won’t tell you how unstable an individual slope will be – but it will give you an idea of the likelihood of encountering an avalanche and some basic travel advice for that day. Although avalanches can occur at all danger levels, your chance of encountering one increases more or less exponentially with each level of the 1-5 scale.  For a more detailed tutorial on the Avalanche Danger Scale, go HERE.

‘Avalanche Problems’ are an extension of the danger scale. This section allows you to better visualize the danger and to make decisions based upon the kinds of avalanches you may encounter. Forecasters use text, graphics, and media to illustrate the type of avalanche; where that avalanche type exists in the terrain; how likely you are to trigger it; and, how big it will be.  For a more detailed tutorial on Avalanche Problems, go HERE.

The Forecast Discussion is an important catch-all for those of you who are interested in the analysis behind the previous components. This section is where forecasters may provide more information on snowpack layering, avalanche cycles, conditions that are not easily categorized as individual Avalanche Problems, or other topics that dive deeper into the “what is it, where is it, what should you do about it” questions. 

Mountain weather plays an integral role in both avalanche formation and trip planning. This section provides a basic overview of both the recent and the expected weather you may encounter. 

Each day is different. The Avalanche Forecast is not designed to tell you exactly where you should or should not go, but it does give you a starting point to decide where to go and how cautiously – or aggressively – you should travel.