Whumph and Winter’s Dew: Avalanche Vernacular for Dummies

Whumph and Winter's Dew- an Avi VernacularAvalanch­es hap­pen, and they are ter­ri­fy­ing. If you’re new to the back­coun­try, the amount of knowl­edge, class­es, gad­gets, and gear to wade through — nev­er mind the hor­ror sto­ries — can be intim­i­dat­ing. Avalanch­es should be intim­i­dat­ing, but learn­ing about them should not. Here is some basic avalanche ter­mi­nol­o­gy to famil­iar­ize your­self with as you delve into the world of snow science.

The Aspect, or slope ori­en­ta­tion, refers to the com­pass direc­tion of a par­tic­u­lar slope, tak­en per­pen­dic­u­lar to the fall line. Solar radi­a­tion, wind load­ing, and oth­er weath­er fac­tors (all cru­cial in snow­pack and its sta­bil­i­ty) vary with aspect.

Cor­nices are over­hang­ing lips of snow that form from wind drift on top of a ridge. Cor­nices can be extreme­ly dan­ger­ous on many lev­els. They can col­lapse sud­den­ly, send­ing the ski­er tum­bling onto the slope below, or bury­ing a ski­er beneath its weight. A cor­nice fall can also trig­ger destruc­tive avalanch­es. Stay clear of trav­el­ing below cor­nices on warm, sun­ny days or days with warm­ing rain.

Crown, or frac­ture line, refers to the wall of snow left behind where an avalanche slab sheared off.

Faceted snow refers to ‘sug­ary’ tex­tured snow. The indi­vid­ual snow grains are angu­lar and have less cohe­sion between them. These grains are called facets, and the process by which they form, usu­al­ly in shal­low snow­pack in con­sis­tent­ly cold air tem­per­a­tures, is called faceting. This type of snow cre­ates weak, porous, unsta­ble layers.

When a deep, com­pact snow­pack is exposed to warm air for an extend­ed peri­od of time, the snow grains become small and round­ed. These grains are called rounds, and the process of round­ing cre­ates a hard, strong lay­er of snow.

Ter­rain Traps
Ter­rain traps refers to any fea­ture in the land­scape, such as cliffs, bod­ies of water, exposed trees, rocks, and crevass­es, that would ele­vate the con­se­quence of being caught.

Surface HoarSur­face Hoar
Sur­face Hoar is some­times called ‘win­ter’s dew.’ It’s a lay­er of feath­ery crys­tals that result from cold, clear nights with lit­tle wind, often big enough to be seen by the naked eye. It’s beau­ti­ful, but watch out! Buried sur­face hoar is a per­sis­tant weak lay­er and becomes the fail­ure lay­er for many avalanches.

That’s right, it’s a tech­ni­cal term! Whumph refers to the sound of snow­pack col­laps­ing as you trav­el across it. If you hear this, take heed, the snow­pack is very unstable!