Documentation for Recreational Users – Understanding Shorthand in Forecasts and Write Ups

In the world of snow and avalanches, there are a lot of short hand abbreviations. Short hand documentation is used when recording avalanches, as well as when recording snow pits and stability tests. Having a foundational understanding of some of this shorthand can be useful when reading avalanche forecasts and communicating with forecast centers.

Want more? You can find all of these short hand symbols and more in the Snow, Weather and Avalanche Guidelines (SWAG). This is the professional handbook for documentation in the U.S..

Route Planning Using Digital Tools

Successful backcountry travel means time spent studying routes before heading out into the field. The more time you spend studying the terrain you might travel through, the better you can anticipate decision-making points, places you might want to stop to evaluate the snowpack, and areas that might hold higher quality snow.

The following video offers a comprehensive look into using Google Earth and CalTopo for route planning.

Keep in mind, online mapping tools are a great resource. The slope angle shading is just an estimate of slope angle. It is essential to take measurements and assess terrain in the field. Do not rely solely on technology or the slope angle shading on these tools.

Here’s an article about tour planning, written by AAI Instructor, Sarah Carpenter

Vista Lodge Case Study – PM Form and Wrap Up

Filling out a PM form takes practice. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. The PM form is a great way to put your observations down on paper. It allows you to answer the question: did the conditions match the forecast?

Here is what Don and his group wrote down on their PM form. Don will leave you with a few final thoughts, as well.

Vista Lodge Case Study – Day 5 Debrief

Did you make some notes about what you learned from this day? Watch the video below to hear what Don and his group discussed.

You have been tracking the snowpack at Vista Lodge for 5 days now. Take the time to download the PM form and fill it out. Do your best to fill it out completely. We have included some cheat sheets to help with the vocabulary.


LIKELIHOOD OF TRIGGERING is a combination of the spatial distribution of the avalanche problem and the sensitivity to triggering.

Vista Lodge Case Study – Day 5 Ascent and Descent

Are you curious about what Don and his team decided? Watch the following video to hear what they did.

Would you have made the same decisions? It’s worth taking a few minutes to reflect.

And take the time to answer the post-trip discussion questions regarding this particular day.

Were there any bad decisions made during this day?

Did anything surprise you (or the group) on this day?

What improvements would you make in the future?

Vista Lodge Case Study – Day 5 Plan for the Day

What did you decide? Are you venturing into new terrain? Sticking with known areas? Interested in hearing about what Don and his group decided? Watch the video below.

So, now you’re at the base of the slope you had discussed ascending. Using the Current Conditions portion of the checklist, what do you think? Ascend the slope? Head back to the lodge? Go somewhere else? Write down your thoughts, so you can compare them with Don and his group’s decision in the next video.

Is this terrain consistent with your pre-trip plan? Are you where you talked about being?

Any signs of instability? Cracking? Collapsing? Avalanche activity?

How likely is it that your group would trigger an avalanche in this terrain? What would be the consequence of triggering an avalanche in this terrain?

Are you going to proceed?

Vista Lodge Case Study – Day 5 Tour Plan

It’s the morning of Day 5 and one group wants to venture down valley. You’re ready to explore some new terrain. Watch the video below to learn what your group is thinking.

Work through the pre-trip plan section of the tour plan. If you want to write down your answers, you can use this worksheet for notes.

Do any current conditions cause you concern?

What avalanche problems are present?

Is the route down valley appropriate for the current conditions? Would you call it open, on standby, or closed?

Do you have any concerns with the plan to venture into new terrain?

Vista Lodge Case Study – Day 4

You and your group have had 3 days of great ski touring. Everyone is excited to check out the bigger terrain along Trundle Ridge today, so you head in that direction in two separate groups. Watch the video to hear about the day.

Vista Lodge Case Study – Day 3

It’s day 3 of the hut trip! Your group splits into 2 teams. One heads out for a peak climbing adventure. One heads out to see if they can venture in to some north facing terrain off of the Trundle Ridge. It’s another beautiful day at the lodge. Watch the video to hear what each group found.

Vista Lodge Case Study – Day 2

Now that you have some baseline information, it’s time to do a full day tour and see what this lodge has to offer. You head just down valley from the lodge. Watch this video to learn what you saw.