The Avaluator is a simple trip planning tool developed by the Canadian Avalanche Association. It is accompanied by a booklet explaining the avalanche danger and terrain rating scales as well as basic recommendations on recognizing avalanche terrain and good travel habits. On the back of the Avaluator Trip Planner card is a slope evaluation tool, entitled “Obvious Clues,” (not discussed here).
The Avaluator Trip Planner relates three types of terrain: Simple, Challenging and Complex to the Avalanche Danger Scale. It is an awareness tool that allows the user to make a suitable choice of terrain based on the forecast danger rating. It provides the first step in assessing the risk associated with a planned backcountry trip.
Using the Avaluator Trip Planner
The real strength of the Avaluator Trip Planner is the growing number of popular areas and trips that have been assigned terrain ratings by avalanche professionals and local guides. For Western Canada ratings are published online. They are also available as pamphlets from information centres and are starting to appear in guidebooks.
The Avaluator is designed to be simple to use. Obtain the danger rating from the forecast and the terrain rating from the above-mentioned sources. If there is no terrain rating available, use the Detailed Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale to make your own evaluation.
Danger levels are given for various elevation ranges. For Simple terrain use the elevation-specific danger rating. For Challenging and Complex terrain use the highest danger rating.
The intersection of the two lines selected above will land in one of three zones that indicate that either “Normal Caution” or “Extra Caution” is required or that travel is “Not Recommended.” For example, if the danger level is Considerable and the terrain is rated Challenging, the intersection of the lines is in the yellow “Extra Caution” zone. This indicates that you should be experienced in routefinding and navigation, stability evaluation and group management and have rescue and first aid skills.
- The Avaluator is a trip planning tool, and does not predict the stability of a given slope.
- Just because you are in the ‘green’ area of the Avaluator doesn’t mean you are completely safe — 25% of historical accidents have occurred in this zone. Be on the watch for isolated slabs and refer to the Obvious Clues on the back of the card in Challenging terrain.
- Avalanche forecasts cover very large areas. For other than simple terrain, you need to verify the danger level at the start of and during your trip by observing snow conditions (see Backcountry Avalanche Safety)
- The danger level may increase during the day due to heavy snowfall, rising temperatures, wind loading, etc.
- The terrain rating system used by the Avaluator does not address the needs of skiers and boarders who are looking for turns on steep or very steep slopes.
- How you use the Avaluator Planner will depend on your level of experience and the makeup your party. Clubs are using it to select trips for outings and to decide whether to hire a guide. Parks Canada uses the terrain ratings to legislate custodial groups in Canadian parks.
Avaluator Online Trip Planner
The online trip planner has raised trip planning in Western Canada to a new level. It is easy to use. Select the bulletin region, and the forecast danger level will be displayed. Select the day and the type of activity and then select a trip from a pull-down list. The star on the card will move to the appropriate position in the green, yellow or red bands.