The Canadian Avalanche Centre has produced a new version of the original Avaluator. The old Trip Planner, used as a basis for the Online Avaluator, is still part of the new Avaluator. Obvious Clues are gone, replaced by a rule-based tool in the form of a Slope Evaluation card to help you recognize dangerous avalanche conditions and make informed decisions. Here are the details.
The original Avaluator Trip Planner card is included as a cut-out at the back of the booklet. It’s used the same way as before: You obtain the Danger Level from the forecast, decide on the Terrain Rating, either from published ratings or determine your own, then use the card to determine the level of risk. The Online Avaluator is the best tool for using the Trip Planner if it includes rated trips in your area.
Slope Evaluation Card
This new card, a separate wallet-sized plastic card, contains two lists of factors that are indicators of increased avalanche danger: A list of Avalanche Condition; and a list of Terrain Characteristics. On each list a score of +1 or +2 is assigned if applicable. The total score for each list is applied to the grid on the reverse of the card to indicate the scope of avalanche danger. You decide whether to proceed depending on your backcountry avalanche experience.
The Slope Evaluation card is primarily intended to be used before you leave the trailhead and during your trip based on ongoing observations. However you can also use it as an extra step in your trip planning by using weather forecasts, avalanche bulletins and knowledge of your destination area.
Click on card to see larger, readable version.
The accompanying booklet explains the Avaluator 2 in more detail and offers tips on good travel habits and rescue and first aid. It’s a major step forward in providing a useful backcountry decision guidance tool for winter outdoor enthusiasts, and the culmination of three years of work by the folks at the Canadian Avalanche Centre.
A few comments on Avaluator 2.0
- The Avaluator is a tool that helps you recognize avalanche danger. It does not predict the stability of a given slope.
- It does not say you should not go into the backcountry, even when the result is in the “red” zone. You can miss out on a lot of good skiing or boarding on low-angled slopes if you use it that way. It does, however, helps you decide on the level of risk you are willing to accept depending on you avalanche-related experience.
- Just because you are in the ‘green’ area of the Avaluator doesn’t mean you are completely safe. You still need to be constantly aware of the terrain to avoid straying onto isolated slabs.
- I believe the most difficult Danger Level to make decisions in is Moderate. How does the Avaluator perform at this level? Consider the case where there is no indications of recent avalanching, snow loading etc. you get an Avalanche Conditions score of 0. If you want to ski slopes steeper than 35° in the alpine the Terrain score is 3, which leaves you in the “green” zone. If Persistent avalanche problems are mentioned in the forecast you end up just in the yellow zone. A reasonable result? Personally I would still use Extra Caution even if no Persistent problems were forecast.
- How you use the Avaluator Planner will depend on your level of experience and the makeup your party. For instance, clubs are using it to select trips for outings and to decide whether to hire a guide. Some groups have a policy that a trip will not proceed if the indication of danger is not in the “green” zone.
- The Avaluator is an excellent educational tool for use in basic avalanche courses. It covers all the key warning signs and terrain factors in predicting avalanche danger.
Unfortunately it is not easy to get hold of Avaluator 2. The only store in the Calgary-Banff area that has any in stock is MEC, though they don’t appear in the online store. The only other way you can get one is by phoning the Canadian Avalanche Centre at (250) 837-2435. Although Valhalla Pure is listed as a sponsor, their Canmore store does not have any!
For more information see Backcountry Avalanche Safety.