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Case Study: Verifying Spatial Variability with a Snow Scope Probe on the Flat Tops, Colorado

Trip options planning with Snowscope observations
Trip options planning with Snowscope observations

The Problem: Tracking Snowpack at a Regional Scale for Motorized Use

Snowmobiles travel at far greater speeds and cover terrain at 10x on scale of non-motorized users (Backcountry Skiers, Split Boarders, snowshoers, etc) in a matter of hours. Traditional snow observations are time tested and proven, but also very time-consuming and only give you information about a single point. This can be time effective for evaluating the snowpack on the slope scale, but to evaluate spatial variability on a larger Regional Scale for motorized users (or even the Mountain and Valley Scale that non-motorized users can cover in a day), traditional snowpit observations are too slow to give you a full picture of spatial variability.

The Solution: Traditional Snowpack Observations and the Snow Scope Probe + app

The Snow Scope Probe is a "smart probe" device that looks similar to an avalanche rescue probe but contains sensors to measure hardness profiles of the snowpack (similar to hand hardness profiles). In under a minute, you can deploy, measure, view, and record a hardness profile from the probe - much much faster than even the most dialed snow wizards can dig a pit. And the Snow Scope App makes recording traditional pit observations quicker, and easier to share and archive a breeze. The traditional note book methods as great as they are in Field, are very time consuming to scan, archive, share etc.

Comparing Snow Scope Data to Hasty Pit by Traditional. otebook

Hardness isn't everything though, and there is still loads of value from digging into the snow and looking for layers, and testing stability. Here's the process that we found most useful to combine traditional obs with Snow Scope Probe data to maximize the benefit of each

The Process:

  1. Establish baseline observations with traditional snow pits and Snow Scope Probe

  2. Sample with the Snow Scope Probe across the terrain at regional and mountain scales, watching for variations. Does the snowpack look different than where I dug my pits?

  3. Do more traditional snow pits where probe data show variations and/or intermittently look at Snow Scope probe data and variations from the baseline taken at the same location as the traditional observations.

Our use in the Flat Tops:

Over the winter of 23/24, we used the Snow Scope from Propagation Labs in our terrain in NW Colorado including the vast Flat Tops region that's relatively less traveled compared to other regions of Colorado and especially the front range.

On a typical day of snowmobiling in the Flat Tops, we can easily do 20-40 miles a day even during an Avalanche Class field day. Verifying the forecast for our operation and/or modifying it for our safe operation is critical and the more observations the better, but traditional pits are time-consuming to do at scale and bulk.

Having the Snow Scope Probe added to our toolbox for snow safety drastically changes that for the better. During a scouting day, and even during a class field day, we are able to take 20+ samples with the probe to cover spatial variability in the snowpack at a regional scale with no impact on the other learning tasks and travel objectives for the day.

Here's a quick overview from the Snow Scope Web App of some of the data we collected on one of our field days. You can see how similar structures appear in the profiles across the area.

The Snow Scope Probe as an aid to teaching Recreational users

Spatial Variability is an easy concept to describe but demonstrating it at scale in a truly scientific manner over a course is much easier as we can sample and show students in real-time the probe data and correlate it to the foundational snowpit or two we dig, without the added time of digging everywhere.

Video: Using the Propagation Labs Snow Scope Probe

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