Information gathered by noting snow textures, grains, or behavior on the snow surface.

Credit: Crested Butte Avalanche Center

There is an abundance of useful information about avalanche conditions that you can observe without having to dig into the snowpack, but rather, paying attention to surface clues.  Most weak layers develop on the snow surface prior to burial; thus, tracking the distribution of these layers while they are plainly visible is critical to understanding where they will present problems in the future.  Wind drifting leaves a pattern of erosion and loading across the snowscape. With an understanding of wind textures or by observing blowing snow, you can identify safe and dangerous slopes.  Rapid warming and surface melt give obvious clues.  Even instabilities that are hidden by the snowpack may present feedback at the surface such as shooting cracks, collapses, or avalanche activity.  There are also a number of surface observations that can be helpful for assessing storm-related instabilities, such as snowfall rates, snow cohesion, and boot/ski penetration.  In short, stay tuned into the snow surface as you move across terrain. It can be equally or more informative than stopping to dig a pit.  Read more to explore important surface observations.