Snowpack is beginning to build up in the Cascades and there's now full winter forecasting from the Northwest Avalanche Center.  

Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest spokesperson Robin DeMario says winter recreationists will find it helpful to understand some of the terms the Avalanche Center uses to describe conditions. 

She says they use a scale system that rates avalanche danger and provides general travel advice based on the likelihood, size, and distribution of expected avalanches. 

"Those danger levels go all the way from low to extreme," said DeMario. "So, people just need to be aware of what those levels are, especially for days that they head to the national forest." 

The Northwest Avalanche Center issues regular mountain weather and avalanche forecasts when snowpack builds up at moderate and lower elevations to create potential avalanche danger.   

Check avalanche conditions at the Northwest Avalanche Center website before leaving home, or download their new AVY app on your phone. 

The 5-level scales of danger used by the Northwest Avalanche Center goes from least to highest amount of danger--low to extreme. 

  • A low danger level means generally safe avalanche conditions. 
  • A moderate danger level means that natural avalanches are unlikely, and that human-caused avalanches are possible (caution is advised for backcountry travel). 
  • Considerable avalanche danger indicates that naturally occurring avalanches are possible and that human-triggered avalanches are likely. Dangerous avalanche conditions exist. 
  • A high danger level represents a situation in which natural and human-caused avalanches are likely to occur.  Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended. Very dangerous avalanche conditions exist. 
  • Extreme means that widespread avalanches are certain (both natural and human-caused). People should avoid all avalanche terrain. Extraordinarily dangerous avalanche conditions. 

DeMario says winter recreationists heading into steeper terrain should bring avalanche rescue gear, including probes, shovels and beacons. 

She says there are now check points in the forest where people can test their solar powered beacons. 

"You can go to these solar signs at six snow parks in the forest, and you can check to see if your beacon is working properly," DeMario said. "So, It's always a good idea to test your beacon before you head back into the woods."  

Avalanche beacon board installation by Kittitas County Sheriff's Office - From Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest
Avalanche beacon board installation by Kittitas County Sheriff's Office - From Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest

People who plan to go snowmobiling, Nordic skiing. snow showing of fat tire biking are advised to bring avalanche gear into the forest. 

Solar powered avalanche beacon checking test points are available at four Cle Elum Ranger District sno-parks (French Cabin Creek, Cooper River, 29 Pines and Crystal Springs) and at two Methow Valley sno-parks (Silver Star, and Yellow Jacket starting Dec. 12). People are encouraged to follow the "How to Test Your Beacon" instructions on the board at the checkpoints. These check points electronically determine if your beacon is working. 

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Gallery Credit: Stacker

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