This is an archive of the old forum

News | Gear | Ski Areas | Hiking | Mountain Biking
Powered by Google™
A New Snow Stability Test
Posted: 05 April 2011 12:44 PM  
Total Posts:  2
Joined  2011-01-30

This year a team of engineers at Cambridge University have been developing a new test that can quickly identify and measure the shear strength of the weakest layer (or interface) within the snowpack. The test provides results similar to those given by a shear box test but takes only a minute to complete. Initial tests have been very successful at detecting buried layers of faceted crystals and poorly bonded crusts.

Next winter we are hoping to send several prototypes to the Alps for testing throughout the season in a wide variety of snow conditions. I would be very grateful if anyone could point me in the direction of a research establishment or experienced backcountry skier who might be interested in testing in France next year. Any comments or questions about the test apparatus are welcome. I will keep the forum updated of further developments


Posted: 05 April 2011 01:09 PM   [ # 1 ]  
Total Posts:  58
Joined  2008-10-29

For a research establishment you could check with the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research:

Posted: 05 April 2011 01:45 PM   [ # 2 ]  
Total Posts:  2234
Joined  2003-10-24

Hi Peter

How big is the apparatus? My friends down at the ANENA might be interested (French equivalent of the SLF - see link in above post). I would be interested in seeing and using the gear, I write for the American Avalanche Association’s quarterly magazine if you want to get in touch. Otherwise Alain Duclos who runs the site: might be a good contact.



Posted: 05 April 2011 02:54 PM   [ # 3 ]  
Total Posts:  1
Joined  2011-04-05

Henry Schniewind at Henry’s Avalanche Talk might be interested in helping you with research, he himself having a background in snow science and working as a guide in the Espace Killy. He also runs an informative presentation about avalanche awareness and off piste safety in resort, as I’m sure many readers know. Henry also works closely with the ANENA, as I understand it.

Posted: 07 April 2011 11:20 AM   [ # 4 ]  
Jr. Member
Total Posts:  34
Joined  2005-05-26

I am sure the SAIS in Scotland or ski patrols might also be interested maybe even something for one of the areas with a transceiver park.  You say “prototypes” so does the test involve more than a shovel and saw and is therefore for forecasting services not or for back country travellers?


Posted: 07 April 2011 04:12 PM   [ # 5 ]  
Total Posts:  2
Joined  2011-01-30

Thanks for all the responses.

The test requires the use of some extra apparatus, which weighs approximately 500g at present but fits comfortably into the average daypack with space to spare for the usual backcountry essentials.

The test is designed for backcountry travellers who want to get an overview of the snow stability on a particular slope without digging a snow pit. I would not yet trust the test as much as a careful snow pit analysis but it is very good at identifying thin layers which can easily be missed by more conventional testing methods. I have used it myself to check if weaknesses I have observed in a snow pit earlier in the day can be found on a slope I want to ski. Preliminary tests from this winter show that the device will consistently identify weak layers if present. Where no weak layers are present the device shows the snow pack to have high shear strength (although the actual values measured at two adjacent tests may vary slightly due to small scale flaws within the snow pack).

The apparatus is very easy to use and will I suspect cost no more than £25 if further testing shows that it is worth bringing to market. We will shortly be filing patent applications but until they are submitted I cannot unfortunately discuss details of apparatus online.  I will however set up a webpage showing the results of testing this winter enabling comment on the usefulness and user friendliness of the output.

As to placing prototypes in transceiver parks, I like the idea but would not want to risk giving the false impression that this is a proven piece of safety equipment. It is as yet unproven but with potential. This is certainly something I will bear in mind for the future.

Posted: 07 April 2011 06:11 PM   [ # 6 ]  
Sr. Member
Total Posts:  543
Joined  2006-01-24

Interesting, I saw some approaches from a couple of other projects where the weight was in kg and the price was in thousands which placed it beyond reach for field use imho.

I would just make one point though, a lot of people would consider that if you’re doing a stability test on a slope you probably already know the answer. YMMV etc etc. It’s not really something I’d do as a micro-decision tool on a regular basis. You already commented on adjacent tests giving different results, that’s spatial variability in the jargon and much is written elsewhere.

Whether you’d want to put a tool like that in the hand of a recreational user is a bit debatable really. Most skiers will buy any gadget going if it either looks cool in a bar (or on the internet) and tend to quickly fall into risk compensation. So given you can’t eliminate spatial variability that might look a bit dangerous maybe.

You’d probably want to look at presenting this at the International Snow Science Workshop or similar, not sure where that is this year but I think it’s in the autumn usually. I’m sure I saw a call for papers somewhere.

 Signature & B&B L’Epicéa, Leysin, Switzerland