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As an avalanche forecaster, you play a critical role in protecting the public and raising avalanche awareness. You combine skills in mountaineering with knowledge of mountain conditions, weather, and snow science to evaluate the risk of avalanches in a given area. Avalanche forecasters are generally busy through fall, winter, and spring months monitoring snowpacks and collecting data in order to predict avalanche occurrences and keep visitors safe.
At a glanceImagine you are standing in bright sunshine, clear blue sky above you and pristine white snow all around.You are an avalanche forecaster on a routine check deep in the heart of the Rockies. You hear a faint rumble growing steadily louder, so you grab your binoculars and scan the area for the source. On a neighbouring slope, you spot a large mass of snow racing down the mountainside, gaining momentum and gathering rocks and trees as it crashes down the incline. From your safe vantage point, this is a spectacular sight, and it's all in a day's work. As an avalanche forecaster for a large ski resort, you begin your days very early in the morning, long before skiers hit the slopes. You arrive at the hill's offices and start checking online the latest satellite images and meteorological reports for the area. You also gather any other avalanche reports and observations before you and the patrol team head up the hill. You will snowmobile to a number of locations throughout the resort to gather information on the weather, snow, and avalanche conditions, and evaluate factors such as new snowfall, wind, temperature, and the stability of the snowpack in order to assess the risk of avalanche. You look for signs of unstable snow. In some places, you dig holes to take snow profiles: the vertical walls of these holes are where you can measure snow layers and look for any potential failure planes, where weak layers are sandwiched between stronger ones. There are also a number of stability tests you perform when necessary to gather information on the snowpack. Once you've gathered all the observations and data you need, you return to the office to prepare your forecast, brief staff, and prepare the required avalanche control operations, including using explosives to trigger avalanches in controlled areas. Once control operations are complete, you update the resort's reports and website and start letting skiers onto the hill.
Job dutiesDuties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an avalanche forecaster:
- Test and observe snowpacks for stability and other avalanche factors.
- Monitor weather and avalanche conditions.
- Prepare daily avalanche forecasts and issue advisories when necessary.
- Direct avalanche control operations, including transporting and handling explosives for triggering avalanches and overseeing the storage of explosives.
- Ensure that effective public and staff safety measures are in place and are being adhered to.
- Collect and maintain a database of snow profiles, weather, and avalanches.
- Train other staff in avalanche observation techniques, avalanche control routes and terrain, and avalanche rescue practices.
- Communicate avalanche risks to the public.
- Maintain weather stations.
Work environmentAvalanche forecasters work in a variety of locations including but not limited to: In the office:
- Maintaining records and analyzing data for reporting, including issuing bulletins and warnings
- Monitoring meteorological conditions
- Communicating on the phone and in meetings with supervisors, government departments, and the public
- Making avalanche observations, including recording size, location, and time
- Taking snow measurements and recording data
- Maintaining weather stations and other equipment
- Conducting explosive avalanche control measures
- Conducting avalanche rescues or training sessions
Where to workThere are a number of places avalanche forecasters can find employment. They include:
- Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
- Ski hills and mountain resorts
- Colleges, universities, and research institutes
- Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations
- Firms in other industries, for example transportation, forestry, and mining
- Adventure and ecotour companies
- Self-employed consultant
Education & requirementsIf you are a high school student considering a career as an avalanche forecaster, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
- Physical Education/Outdoor Education
- Computer Science
- Civil Engineering
- Geological Engineering