Some Tips on Identifying Snow Grains in the Field

The following video offers some tips and tricks for snow crystal ID. This is something that people often struggle with. THIS VIDEO IS OPTIONAL. The goal of this talk is to help you build a foundation before arriving at the course. After you watch this video, take time to practice crystal ID in the field, whether it’s in the backcountry, at the ski area, or out your front door.

Here is a link to the International Classification for Seasonal Snow on the Ground This link offers further descriptions for improved crystal ID, as well as additional photos.Toggle panel: Restrict this content

Why We Pay Attention to Early Season Snow

Pay attention to early season snow. This can build the foundation of your season’s snowpack. Here are a few reasons why avalanche professionals start paying attention as soon as the first snowfall happens.

The Mountain Snowpack – Melt Freeze Metamorphism

When the temperature is above 0° C, the snowpack begins to move through a melt-freeze metamorphism. This means that the snowpack is often going through swings of being very strong when it’s frozen and very weak when it’s not frozen each day.

Here are some things to think about.

And here is a deeper dive into wet snow.

It is important to ask different questions when you are dealing with wet snow and wet snow avalanche problems. These questions include:

Did it freeze last night? How thick did it freeze? How is the new snow affecting the old snow? How wet is the snowpack?

You can find an interesting paper about wet snow forecasting here.


The Mountain Snowpack – Facets, Near Surface Faceting and Surface Hoar Development

How do facets form on the surface of the snow? What drives growth of depth hoar? How does surface hoar form? In the following two videos, Jake will cover a variety of faceting processes including near surface faceting. He will also cover surface hoar growth.

Faceting can also occur on the surface of the snowpack. Faceting that happens at the top of the snowpack, rather than at the bottom of the snowpack is called Near Surface Faceting. There are 3 different near surface faceting processes – Diurnal Recrystallization, Radiation Recrystallization, and Melt Layer Recrystallization.

The following video will cover the faceting process, depth hoar formation, and near surface faceting.


Surface hoar is winter’s dew. It is formed under cold, clear, calm conditions. It is not a problem on the snow surface, but once it is buried, it often forms a weak layer.

The Mountain Snowpack and the Rounding Process

In the following video series, Jake Hutchinson talks through a variety of snow metamorphism processes. These videos take a deeper dive into snow formation and metamorphism that will help you build a solid foundation of understanding of snowpack development and evolution.

ROUNDING is a metamorphic process that can happen within the snowpack. Rounding occurs when there is a small temperature gradient in the snowpack. Rounding is a strengthening process.

The Sorcerer Lodge – An Update of Conditions on the day of your departure

Now that you have identified a variety of routes to ski or ride in a variety of conditions, it’s time to head to the lodge. Watch this introduction to your next assignment.

You have found these resources to help with your run selection.

Public Weather and Avalanche Data from the hut

Avalanche Canada

Glacier National Park Forecast

Mount Fidelity Season HS graph comparison

With all of this information, take the time to answer the following questions. Conditions vary, so there are no single correct answers. The goal of this part of the exercise is to use your knowledge of the terrain, the weather forecast, and the current conditions to route plan for the trip. This is what you should do anytime you are headed out to a new zone (and realistically, any time you head out). Understanding terrain that is appropriate for different avalanche hazard ratings, as well as different group abilities is essential to successful trip planning and execution.

The Sorcerer Lodge – Identifying Low Visibility Runs

Now that you have identified runs that you would ski in low visibility, review this video for Don Sharaf’s answers to this question. This is a great exercise to do anytime you are headed into unfamiliar terrain. Is there terrain you can travel through at any hazard rating? Is there terrain for low visibility? Ask these questions before planning a hut trip, a yurt trip, or a camping trip.

The next thing we want you to do is to draw in a route to Mt. Iconoclast. You can do this on a paper map or use CalTopo with or without slope shading. Identify at least one route that you would take to ascend Mt. Iconoclast. Identify critical evaluation points along the route. Where would you want onsite data? Where would you dig a pit (or two or three)? What other information do you want.

Here is the CalTopo link to the terrain around Sorcerer Lodge.