Video Tutorial

by Andrew Kiefer

A Community Approach

NWAC constantly works to improve and evolve the avalanche forecast to better serve the backcountry community. Our goal is to provide an accurate, reliable, and useful forecast for everyone. But, we can’t do it alone and we’re calling on you for help. An essential component of the avalanche forecast are field observations – information backcountry users obtain during every outing in the mountains. Your willingness to share these observations is extremely valuable for the greater backcountry community, and an opportunity for you to help NWAC build a better avalanche forecast.

Why Are Observations So Important?

NWAC issues avalanche forecasts for a geographic area of roughly 15,000 square miles, mapped as 10 backcountry zones each with unique weather and snowpack characteristics. Monitoring conditions in such a large area as they constantly evolve throughout the winter is a massive undertaking that is always enhanced through collaboration. The best avalanche forecasts result from joint efforts between NWAC, professional partners, and individual community members like you.

Observations play a critical role in the avalanche forecasting process. As Maya Angelo said: “You can’t really know where you are going unless you know where you have been.” Observations define current conditions and validate the current forecast. The clearer the current picture is, the better all of us are able to anticipate what will happen next. When forecasting avalanche hazard, there is no such thing as too many observations, just a more complete picture from which to start. More observations can make patterns easier to identify, and often increase confidence in a forecast. Observations help avalanche forecasters communicate public safety information, and help all backcountry users make more informed decisions on where and when to ride.

Viewing and Submitting Observations

The Recent Observations page is a free public platform on NWAC’s website where users can view and share information about recent snow, weather, and avalanche conditions, as well as avalanche incidents. NWAC Staff submit observations to the page regularly, as do a wide variety of avalanche professionals throughout the region. Backcountry recreationists of all disciplines (YOU!) are strongly encouraged to submit observations. The Recent Observations Page was designed to allow anyone to share useful information, regardless of experience level or avalanche training.

Please be respectful when submitting information to the Recent Observations Page. Keep observations relevant and concise, and refrain from swearing, profanity, or including personal information. If you have information about an avalanche fatality, please do not post it to the Recent Observations Page. Contact NWAC by email at forecasters@nwac.us or call 206-526-6165.

How to View and Submit

You can view and submit observations using a mobile device or computer. Visit nwac.us, find the Observations tab, and select Recent Observations to view information and Submit an Observation to share information. In the submission form, fill in the required fields, answer Yes or No prompts, attach photos, and add any other pertinent information in writing.

What to Submit

Most Important:

  • Location, date, and what you directly observed
  • Avalanches you saw or triggered
  • The presence or absence of obvious signs of unstable snow like shooting cracks and collapses
  • Photos 

Other valuable information:

  • Weather observations
  • Snowpit and stability test results
  • Riding conditions
  • How steep was the terrain you rode/skied?
  • Which aspects or elevations did you ride on or try to avoid?
  • How cautiously or aggressively did you travel?
A skier-triggered avalanche (D2) that occurred 03/08/20 on Mt. Ann (north aspect, 5000ft). The avalanche failed within new snow 6-8in deep, 50ft wide, and debris ran 150ft downslope covering the uptrack. No one was caught in the avalanche. (Kit Moffit Photo) Information about recent avalanches you saw or triggered is most important. Include details about location, aspect, elevation, avalanche size/type/width/length.
Evidence of a human-triggered cornice avalanche that occurred 01/09/20 on Mt. Herman (east aspect, 5500ft). Two people were caught and carried in the avalanche, but uninjured. (Zack McGill Photo) A picture is worth a thousand words. 

When to Submit

Submitting observations in a timely manner is critical. Ideally, field observations are submitted the same day they were gathered. Snow, weather, and avalanche conditions are dynamic, and observations become less relevant and expire over time.

Thank you for contributing field observations. NWAC could not exist without your support and engagement. Your participation directly impacts the avalanche forecast and benefits the greater backcountry community.