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Snow sintering and backcountry safety

Script, illustration, animation, editing & sound design: Bryan Schaeffer

Special Thanks to Contributing Subject Matter Experts:
Visual Consultant - Seth Neilson 

MSU Sub-Zero Lab - Snow Science
Edward E. Adams, Ph.D.
Kevin Hammonds, Ph.D.
Ladean McKittrick, Ph.D.
Snow Science & Backcountry Safety

Learn current avalanche, snowpack & mountain weather information before you go.


Exploring winter canvases in the backcountry...
can be exhilarating...
it can also be dangerous.
Learn essential avalanche safety skills and get local knowledge before you go.

Let’s start by exploring the magic of snow sintering and how it affects the stability of an ever-changing snowpack.
Snowfall blankets the ground and older layers of snow, throughout the season, forming different levels of consistency.
Airborne “stellar dendrites” settle on the surface. Where the grains shed their prongs forming rounds.
If there is a significant temperature gradient these rounds can become faceted.

A faceted layer is a weak layer.
The combination of a weak faceted layer underneath a strong sintered layer is a perfect recipe for a slab avalanche. Faceted snow is “usually or often or generally or some other modifier” weak, since it is not “always” the case.This weak point when triggered by the weight of a skier can cause failure in the snowpack and result in a slab avalanche.

Barring any extreme temperature gradient events, these rounds form strong bonds in the process of sintering.
Sintered snow “sets up” into a cohesive, well-bonded snowpack.

And that’s the first step in understanding how snow sintering can affect the stability of a snowpack.

Follow us to learn more about backcountry safety and other essential outdoor skills.

Riding slopes in the backcountry can be dangerous.
Know current avalanche, snowpack and mountain weather information before you go.

Special thanks to contributing subject matter experts.

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SINTR Visual Communications & Best of the NW
Snow sintering and backcountry safety

Snow sintering and backcountry safety

Learn how snow sintering affects the stability of a snowpack.