Mt Charleston Backcountry Avalanche Information Resources
*Excerpts From Recommended Book "Snow Sense" by Jill Fredston and Doug Fesler

Page Navigation Menu

Snow Sense
The following text has been excerpted from the book "Snow Sense" by Jill Fredston and Doug Fesler. The book is distributed by the Alaska Mountain Safety Center, 9140 Brewsters Drive, Anchorage, Alaska, 99156, (907) 345-3566.

The excerpts below are only a sampling of information essential for safe travel into the backcountry. Before heading to the backcountry, one should plan on reading the complete text of Snow Sense and other informative avalanche books, as well as attending an avalanche safety class, using safety devices like: beacons, probes, shovels, and ability to read local snow conditions.

*We also are assisting with advertiseing for Sky's The Limit guide service to put together a 2 day Mt Charleston backcountry Las Vegas Avalanche Training Course in the Las Vegas area in January and if you would be interested in more info please email us your contact info and we will add you to the list of interested people. Otherwise the closest training to Las Vegas is Salt Lake City or Mamoth and often more expensive. Click above link for details.


In the United States between 1950-51 and 1992-93, 420 people are known to have died in 310 separate snow avalanche incidents. Four out of five, or 80% were recreationists and of these, roughly 75% were traveling in the backcountry. A majority of the victims triggered the avalanches that killed them. In Canada between 1979-80 and 1993-94, 97 avalanche fatalities occurred. All but two of these people died pursuing recreational activities. A greater number of fatalities occurred in Europe, with 728 deaths in 12 countries between 1985-86 and 1990-91, but the types and causes of accidents were often very similar. These numbers represent just the fatalities in selected countries. Hundreds more incidents occur worldwide each year in which people trigger, are caught, partly buried, buried, and/or injured in avalanches.

The number of avalanche accidents continues to climb as winter backcountry use and skill levels increase, available equipment improves, and "limits" get pushed. Backcountry skiers and mountaineers lead the list of those getting caught although during the 1993- 1994 season, most of the fatalities in North America were snow mobiles A rise in incidents involving snowboarders is expected as the sport continues to gain in popularity.

These statistics are not meant to intimidate, but to educate. Most of the avalanches catching people are triggered by people, and the same mistakes are being made repeatedly. While some accidents are a result of not recognizing potential hazard, most accidents occur because the victims either underestimate the hazard or overestimate their ability to deal with it, often exercising poor route selection or choice of timing. Many of the accidents involve "experienced" skiers or mountain travelers. There is a tendency to assume that these people are also experts at evaluating avalanche hazard but this is often not the case.

Nearly all avalanche accidents can be avoided. The clues are there. The key is to learn to read "nature's billboards." Usually when avalanche accidents are investigated, it is found that not just one or two clues were overlooked or ignored but three, or four, or five clues by the time the group got into trouble. Few people would choose to cross a busy four-lane highway without listening for the traffic or looking both ways. Similarly, traveling on or near steep, snow-covered slopes without gathering and integrating information about the current stability of the snow is like wearing earplugs and blinders. Steep slopes can be negotiated safely but it is a matter of timing. When the fish are running, some people go fishing. When the avalanches are running, it is more important than ever to carefully evaluate snow stability and choose good routes every step of the way. There will be some days when only lower angle slopes can be traveled safely and slopes with angles steeper than roughly 35deg. need to be avoided. There will be other days when you can safely travel on everything in sight, no matter what the angle.

The snowpack is stable most of the time and because of this, it is common to travel to a particular spot in avalanche terrain many times without seeing any avalanches. As a result, we get "positive reinforcement," that is, we begin to think of an area as safe. But if we travel to that spot often enough, sooner or later we will be there when the snow is unstable and it may catch us off guard To travel safely in dragon country, you need to think like a dragon. Learn where they live and feed, when they sleep, and what fires them to life.

Putting it All Together: Maximizing Your Safety In Avalanche Terrain

Timing is everything. You can only travel safely on red terrain when the snowpack is a green. When instability exists, you need to notch back your slope angles.

Measure your slope angles. This not only lets you know the capability of the terrain to produce avalanches, but also helps you categorize the type of instability you may be dealing with. For any given avalanche cycle or instability, failure will occur only on a certain range of slope angles. Keep in mind that shear failure propagation is common when a sensitive weak layer like surface hoar or young faceted snow is subjected to a new load.

Always look for tender spots or areas of stress concentration. Likely problem areas are rollovers, places where the slope angle suddenly increases, wind-loaded areas, shaded aspects, thin spots, a short distance below cliff bands or near rocks and brush where weak layers are likely to be more well developed.

Study fracture lines. Note which slopes have slid, what the bed surface slope angles were, where the fractures broke, what they ran on, and how deep they were. You can learn a lot from this, including developing x-ray avalanche eyeballs for detecting tender spots and stress concentration areas. Also measure the runout or alpha angle, that is, the angle between the furthest extent of the avalanche and the fracture line. This angle is an indication of the runout distance or efficiency of a given avalanche. The lower the angle, the more efficient and longer-running the slide. If you have a path you like to travel in regularly, take a photograph of it and make an enlargement. Overlay the print with a plastic mylar. Draw any avalanche activity you observe during the season on this mylar and make a note as to contributory terrain, snowpack, and weather factors.

Integrate clues. Continually seek bull's-eye data. Once you have an opinion about snow stability, keep seeking additional information to confirm or refute that opinion and to further reduce your level of uncertainty. Don't be "suckered" in by the absence of obvious clues like recent avalanche activity, whumphing noises, or shooting cracks. Your biggest clue may just be recent weather events.

Hammer on the snowpack. The snow stability evaluation process does not end until the snow melts. Do not get complacent. You can travel all day and find your problem spot within five minutes of the end of the day. Be very careful about climbing one aspect and traveling down another. Jump on little slopes. Cut cornices with ropes. Do belayed jump or pit tests. If you are an expert skier and are dealing with a surface instability, ski test small slopes when you have a good traverse line between safe spots and a reliable partner. If it does avalanche, take a few minutes to examine why. Keep in mind that just because a slope doesn't go, doesn't mean that it is stable.

Analyze your assumptions / beware of the human factor. Remember that the avalanche dragons do not care if you are tired, hungry, grumpy, or late for work. Is your attitude interfering with your objectivity? When evaluating avalanche hazard, you need to think like an avalanche. Do not be reassured just because there are tracks on a slope.

Choose your travel lines carefully. For your first run, choose a slightly less steep angle or a line off to the edge of the slope rather than center-punching the path. Always think escape routes. Which way are you going to jump if the slope cuts loose?

Think consequences. What's going to happen to you if you get caught or buried? Do better alternatives exist? Is it worth it?

Be conservative. When in doubt, notch back your slope angles. If you have a "travel to die" attitude, you probably will.

Use safe travel procedures. Travel on or near steep slopes one at a time. Be anti-social. Never stop in the middle or at the bottom of an avalanche slope always stop off to the side or well out away from the runout zone. Never travel above your partner. Keep each other in sight. Choose your partners carefully. If skiing, use releasable bindings and do not wear safety straps on your skis or poles.

Be prepared for the worst. Have a rescue plan and carry avalanche rescue equipment (shovel, beacon and probe per person). Understand that your beacon is not a safety talisman. A functioning beacon just ensures that the beacon will be recovered and does not guarantee that you will survive the avalanche.

Rescue Plan: As A Victim

  • If you are caught in an avalanche, call out so other members of your party know to watch you as you are carried down the slope, and then keep your mouth closed to prevent ingestion of snow. You may have a split second to grab a tree, dig into the bed surface, or lunge, ski or "goose" your machine off to the side. If so, do it! (Note: If you are inside a vehicle when caught, immediately shut off the engine to avoid the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.)

  • If possible, discard cumbersome gear such as skis, ski poles, and pack (if it is heavy) although this is much easier said than done. This gear tends to drag you underneath the surface of the moving debris. You might, however want to keep a light pack with you as it may help protect your back and the gear in it will probably be useful in an emergency situation.

  • Use a swimming and rolling motion to try to stay on the surface of the snow and/or work your way to the side of the avalanche. FIGHT with all your effort! You will likely be out of control but try to keep your head up slope and your feet down slope and maneuver around fixed objects like trees and rocks. The main message is that now is the time to struggle to stay on the surface and to avoid hitting objects which can inflict mechanical injuries.

  • As you feel the snow slow down, thrust your hand or any part of your body above the snow surface so it can be seen by others. You probably will be so disoriented that you won't know where the snow surface is so just guess and lunge.

  • Before the snow comes to rest, cup your arm or hand in front of your face to clear an air space. If possible, try to expand your chest during this time. A number of buried snow mobilers have credited their survival to the air space provided by their helmets.

  • If buried, stop fighting and relax to preserve oxygen. Remember, you are not supposed to panic! Occasionally, buried victims have been found by yelling for help but usually the hearing of the rescuers is impaired by static such as the wind, rustling clothes, the sound of footsteps, etc. Victims can often hear more clearly because of the absence of this static under the snow. It is probably best to save your breath and yell only if you hear someone directly overhead.

Avalanche Safety, Backcountry, Rescue, and Snowshoe Products

Snow Shovels

YOUR COST: $33.99
w/ low price guarantee

The no compromise backcountry shovel at less than half the weight of old-style aluminum shovels. Works great as "Dead-Man" snow anchor.

Weight: 13oz. Size 12"x11.25"

YOUR COST: $48.99
w/ low price guarantee

This shovel is one tough customer. A lightweight and extremely rigid construction is what sets the 3DX apart from other shovels. Telescoping aluminum handle gives you different options, and the scoop removes for packability.

Weight: 595 grams (21 oz)

YOUR COST: $41.99
w/ low price guarantee

This shovel is one tough customer. A lightweight and extremely rigid construction is what sets the 3DX apart from other shovels. Telescoping aluminum handle gives you different options, and the scoop removes for packability.

Weight: 595 grams (21 oz)

Avalanche Beacons



w/ low price guarantee

Same dependable quality as the F1-ND, but with added function of locating a snowmobile. The SLED BUG attaches to the wiring harness on a snowmobile. The SLED BUG transmitter is located in the same fashion as a normal search, except that you use the SB channel of the beacon. New seven LED bar graph improves the sensitivity while searching. 80m-457 kHz. 50m-SB channel. *The SLED BUG is not intended for personal use.


YOUR COST: $249.99
w/ low price guarantee

Same dependable quality as the F1-ND, but with added function of locating a snowmobile. The SLED BUG attaches to the wiring harness on a snowmobile. The SLED BUG transmitter is located in the same fashion as a normal search, except that you use the SB channel of the beacon. New seven LED bar graph improves the sensitivity while searching. 80m-457 kHz. 50m-SB channel. *The SLED BUG is not intended for personal use.




w/ low price guarantee

Enhanced by the latest DSP technology (signal processing with a
digital signal) and a triple-antenna system, the PIEPS DSP not only offers an exceptional 60 meter range but also greatly simplifies the rescue procedure, even in the case of multiple burials.

The DSP is the first beacon ever to display the number of victims. As soon as the PIEPS DSP picks up signals, the approximate distance and direction to the strongest signal are displayed on a large LCD plus the number of burials within range is represented on the LCD matchstick men.

Another revolutionary first for the PIEPS DSP is the highly useful SCAN
feature. Press the SCAN key while in SEARCH mode and the DSP will scan the entire receiving range and return an overview of all buried devices within range classified in three groups:
Reading 1: Number of burials within a distance of approx. 5 meters
Reading 2: Number of burials within a distance of approx. 20 meters
Reading 3: Number of burials within a distance of approx. 50 meters

The optimized multiple search, the absolute highlight of the PIEPS DSP, is based on a separation of signals via the digital signal processor (DSP). If there are multiple burials, this is clearly indicated by the number of matchstick men. By default, the PIEPS DSP will automatically search for the strongest signal. Once the position of the first burial has been located, a searcher can "MARK" the signal of the first burial. Once "MARKED" the first signal is now suppressed and the PIEPS DSP will automatically search for the second strongest signal and so on and so forth until all victims are located.

PIEPS DSP ADVANCED: The ADVANCED model comes equipped with all of the features of the DSP plus additional options: Temperature Display, Compass, Bearing Compass and Altimeter. $425.00

Snow Shoes





w/ low price guarantee

Package includes:

  • 7 Series Basic Sport Snowshoes
  • 2-piece lightweight 6000 series aluminum pole, adjusts from 77cm to 130 cm
  • Durable nylon carrying case
  • Compression side straps for convenient pole attachment
  • Zippered front panel for easy access
  • Adjustable shoulder strap and carry handle
  • Atlas Snowshoe Guidebook
  • Explore Winter Pass promotion-free trail access at over 30 resorts







w/ low price guarantee

We offer the Atlas 7-Series recreational line of snowshoes. Designed as the ultimate shoe for the recreational snowshoer, these shoes are available in four sizes to fit children and adults. All of the shoes feature a single one-piece T6 aluminum frame with Nytex decking, the Atlas Switchback harness system for a secure fit and the Dual Cleat System.





w/ low price guarantee

The Grimper ski can be uses for normal ski runs, approaches, or as an alternative to snowshoes. The Grimper ski comes with the Globetrotter binding which can be quickly adjusted, and fits all types of ski and crampon ready mountaineering boots. The climbing skins are made of 70% mohair.

  • Weight: 3100 grams
  • Length: 98.5cm






w/ low price guarantee

Designed from 12mm aluminum tubing, the SOS probe utilizes a new quick-release ratchet locking mechanism for rapid set-up that won't be affected by adverse weather conditions. Comes with a sturdy packcloth carrying case. You can also add the SOS Probe Tape to your probe for an accurate cm scale right on the pole. Easily applied, the Probe Tape assists with snow surveys and judging layer depth. Another innovation from SOS.

SOS Probe - Weight: 370 grams (13 oz) - Length: 9 feet (2.8m) - 7 sections $66.99
SOS Mini Probe - Weight: 133 grams (4.7 oz) - Length: 7.5 feet (2.2m) - 7 sections $88.99

YOUR COST: $98.99
w/ low price guarantee

Same high quality as the standard probe, but lighter.

6 section probe
Length: 9 feet (2.8m)
Easton 7075 aluminum
Weight: 11 oz.


YOUR COST: $59.99
w/ low price guarantee

Hardened steel
Adjustable width that fits all boot sizes
Strap binding
Points: 6
Weight: 450grams

YOUR COST: $119.99
w/ low price guarantee

Built to handle a myriad of different climbing pursuits, the Ultralight Universal is our best selling crampon. This crampon lives for trekking, glacier travel, or steep couloirs and snowfields. Totally adjustable Zytel straps make this crampon durable and easy to use. Fits everything from moon boots to flip-flops, our lightest crampon available.

Weight: 590g - Points: 10

Ice Axe

YOUR COST: $53.99
w/ low price guarantee

An excellent choice for an all-around axe. The Massif's light weight and durable construction make it a great value, perfect for outdoor programs or as a first axe. Combining a hardened aluminum alloy shaft with a cold-sheared steel head and welded adze produces a very strong but remarkably lightweight axe. The unique spike provides excellent snow penetration and the smooth shaft makes probing for crevasses a breeze. Available in a wide range of sizes to provide a perfect length for everyone. Comes complete with sliding wrist leash.

Weight: 17.8oz for 65cm.

YOUR COST: $81.99
w/ low price guarantee

Lightweight aluminum shaft and solid forged steel head make the Walker a tough and reliable axe at a price any climber can afford.

Weight: 640-740grams Sizes: 55, 60, 65, 70, 77, 85cm

YOUR COST: $83.99
w/ low price guarantee

Designed for ski-touring and glacier travel, the Tour Lite is a tough and dependable axe weighing only 14 ounces. Solid one-piece aluminum head and shaft exceed CE certification.

Weight: 430-570grams Sizes: 65, 70, 77, 85cm

YOUR COST: $149.99
w/ low price guarantee

Two axes in one, the Tour Lite Telescoping easily adjusts from 60cm to 95cm in seconds. The basket is removable for walking or probing. Now includes a re-designed lock washer, making this axe stronger than ever.

Weight: 500grams Size: One Size

Additional Backcountry Products

YOUR COST: $66.99
w/ low price guarantee

Used by snow controllers, backcountry skiers, snowmobilers, mountaineers and avalanche forecasters throughout the world. Includes 2°F Thermometers, Slopemeter, Snow Crystal Card, Snow Pit Card, 5x Magnifier and an organizer to hold it all.





w/ low price guarantee

GPS, barometer, altimeter and compass in one unit.

GPS: 12 channel parallel receiver. Updates position 1/sec. Accurate to 30 ft. StraightHome feature-one touch shows the quickest way home. Stores up to 1,000 waypoints (stores altitude also) or up to 10 reversible routes w/ 100 waypoints each.
STORMWATCH BAROMETER: Current pressure, 36 hour history, display trends, 12 hour weather forecast.
TRUE MAGNETIC DIGITAL COMPASS: Accuracty to 2º with 1º resolution. Automatically compesateds for Earth's magnetic declination and points you towards a stored waypoint, without moving.
ALTIMETER: Accurate to 3 ft. Range from -2,300 to 30,000 ft. Displays rate of change, max and min.

406 PLB  YOUR COST: $639.99


w/ low price guarantee

All ACR PLBs are made to EXCEED the rigorous testing standards of COSPAS-SARSAT, FCC, NOAA, U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, for durability, waterproof, flotation, high visibility and extreme operating temperatures at a minimum of 24 hours at -20C (longer at warmer ambient temperatures). Comes complete with a 5 year Lithium Battery and a 5 year warranty. ALL ACR PLBs can be used ANYWHERE in the world!

  • The 406 PLB relies on signal triangulation to fix your positon to a general area. Homing frequency guides searchers to your exact location.
  • GYPSI 406 PLB can be attached to an external GPS allowing it to transmit your exact coordinates. Without GPS plugged in it works like the 406 PLB


w/ low price guarantee

Every Atlas includes an exclusive, built-in custom background map featuring excellent detail of the Continental U.S. and Hawaii. Be in control with major highways, interstate exits, lakes and rivers at your fingertips. The Atlas not only receives 12 parallel channel GPS, but is also WASS enabled for enhanced position accuracy. You can expect fast satellite lock-ons, precise tracking and position updates by the second. Mega-memory allows you to save your waypoints and mark your favorites with 42 different graphic icons. GPS alarms help you stay on track and an internal back-up memory keeps your data safe for years. The Atlas is thin and easy to handle while still boasting the largest built-in display in handheld GPS.

  • Precise 12-parallel channel GPS+WAAS receiver
  • Accuracy: Down to 3 meters
  • Built-in Patch antenna and port for optional external antenna
  • Built-in background map of Continental US and Hawaii
  • Easy/advanced operation modes
  • Multiple map zoom ranges .05-4,000 miles
  • Easy point-and-map cursor navigation/route planning
  • Compatible with most computer mapping software
  • Memory: 1,000 waypoints, 1,000 event markers, 10 reversible routes, 10/10,000 point trail plots
  • Display: 1.7" x 2.2" high-contrast backlit LCD, 4-level grayscale
  • Resolution: 120 x 160, 19,200 total pixel
  • Battery Life: Up to 12 hrs of continuous GPS navitagoin.
  • Power: either 2AA batteries or 8-30 VDC external power
  • Dimensions: 5.67" x 2.5" x 0.9"
  • 2-year warranty
  • Optional expandable memory and map cards


w/ low price guarantee

Slip in an Atlas MapCard that corresponds to your chosen travel zone and get more detailed mapping information including back roads, trails and campgrounds. Find and identify points of interest such as restaurants, hotels, banks, airports, emergency services, sporting goods shops, gas stations, marinas, public lands and much more.

  • Mapcards available by special order and MOST areas are available.




Major Powder Falls in Echo Canyon
Mt. Charleston Snow Storm 2-20-04

Photo by Anna








Low price Guarantee: Your safety and well being is more important to us than making every red cent off of each item, so if ya find it for less elsewhere simply email or call us with the complete URL of the identical item, where you found it and we will beat it!














Avalanche Unique Current Page Views