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By Jim Langley

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Part of a layer of new snow may 12 Wasatch Mountains, Utah 13 Wasatch Mountains, Utah slide away as a soft slab with no obvious distinction from the rest of the new snow remaining behind, but in each case some minor fluctuation in snow deposition, perhaps a brief wind gust or interruption of snowfall, has left behind the seed of a failure plane and later slab avalanche release. Figure 13 moves to a larger scale with evidence of thicker layering. Again, a snowfall has been deposited with wind and weather variations during the storm.

Figure 27 gives a close-up view. The thin, bright layer across the slab is buried surface hoar, with a thin, dark band of ice crust, prominent in figure 27, just beneath it. This is an especially favorable combination for slab avalanche release. Evaluating such a hazard is tricky because surface hoar forms erratically across the landscape according to local surface cooling and variations in supply of atmospheric moisture. Once formed, it can be easily and erratically swept away by wind. Other Snow-Surface Features 37 28 Rocky Mountains, Colorado Figure 28 shows the fuzzy appearance of a snow surface coated with surface hoar.

In figure 15, the thick depositions of successive snowstorms are visible in this large cornice. The added weight of each storm bends downward the previous layers until the lowermost one rests on the lee snow surface below. Continuity of these layers with snow or rock anchors to the windward gives substantial strength to the cornice and resists its fall. Once a cornice does fall and leaves a fracture face, as in the foreground of figure 16 (where another cornice is in the act of falling in mid-distance), a different situation prevails.

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