March 3, 2014

BSP Rangers Study Avalanche Hazard

The following report was submitted by BSP Ranger Isaac Needell:

Baxter State Park rangers train in many disciplines throughout each year. This February, six rangers attended a four-day American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) Level 2 course hosted at Chimney Pond Campground. This course builds upon a foundation set by the AIARE Level 1 course, which familiarizes students with avalanche terrain, hazards, trip planning, and basic companion rescue techniques.

The AIARE Level 2 class focuses in on the science of how the snowpack forms, how it changes overtime, and what these changes mean for snow stability. The course also builds upon the rescue techniques covered in the Level 1 class by introducing more complicated avalanche burial scenarios.

Over four full days, rangers trained in multiple locations spread across the Great and South Basins on Katahdin. Snow pits were dug on Saddle Slide, on the Cathedral trail, at the base of Waterfall Gully and Cilley-Barber technical routes, and in the Chimney Pond Campground. Complex avalanche beacon search simulations involving multiple buried victims were conducted daily by both groups and individual rescuers. Many hours were spent observing, evaluating, and recording the characteristics of the different layers of the snowpack present on Katahdin.

Rangers digging and studying snow pits on the Cathedral Trail

Tools of the trade include shovels, snow axe, recording books and a warm pair of gloves
Snow pit evaluations allow rangers to provide information to park users regarding the stability of the snowpack and the avalanche hazard present on Katahdin and in Baxter State Park. The snow conditions can be used much like weather observations to give visitors a piece of information to help them make safe decisions while enjoying the park. Winter visitors who are planning to enter possible avalanche terrain must be able to recognize avalanche risks and are responsible for their decision to enter such terrain. The observations made by park rangers are one important piece in a much larger decision making process that lies with each winter visitor.

The Saddle Trail during the AIARE Level 2 course.
A sample snow pit graph put together during the AIARE courses

For more information on avalanche trainings, visit the AIARE at: