A pit targeting specific questions, often with snowpack tests.

Credit: Crested Butte Avalanche Center / Backcountry Magazine

Test pits typically include basic snowpack tests and observations of snowpack structure. Test pits target specific questions or hypotheses involving the structure and stability of the snowpack. Targeted questions might be:

  • How deep is the surface hoar layer? 
  • Are the facets still propagating failures? 
  • Is there a weak layer below this storm snow? 
  • Has meltwater reached the buried crust?

We dig test pits with a shovel to gather enough data to efficiently address questions. In the absence of obvious signs of instability and when all other evidence points towards skiing or riding a steep line, dig a test pit and perform a stability test to do one final check. It might save your life.

A test pit targeting questions about slab and weak layer characteristics in the upper snowpack. Credit: Crested Butte Avalanche Center

Test pits on small or low-angle slopes are an important final stamp of approval in the process of stepping out into larger terrain if conditions are appropriate. Credit: Crested Butte Avalanche Center

Conducting a test pit. Credit: Sawtooth Avalanche Center