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Snowboard guide Sam Thackeray

Splitboard Guide Sam Thackeray Explains the Shift in Avalanche Education to Humans

The Inertia

Avalanche educator and split board guide Sam Thackeray believes that not all avalanches are created equal. Understanding this fact is an essential tool in avalanche safety because everything from the mechanics of an individual avalanche to the day’s conditions can impact how he’ll address a series of avalanche problems.

In his Avalanche Awareness Guide with Inspire Courses, Sam addresses six unique types of avalanches and the threats that can arise from each one.

“Learning the mechanics that create them, learning the signs of instability that you can be aware of while you’re out there is going to help you make a more informed decision that’s going to keep you safer,” he says. “And frankly, you’re just going to be able to find better snow and have more fun.”

Within those six avalanche types, Sam breaks them down into two larger categories: loose avalanche problems and slab avalanches. And within each of those are countless variables and conditions that create even more unique scenarios. Here, we’ll address the two types of loose avalanches and the threats they pose.


“Generally speaking, a slough is not going to be large enough to bury you, but it can put you into a situation that you don’t want to be in.”

You have seen plenty of these in videos, where a skier or snowboarder is outrunning and avoiding a slough (or sluff). While they aren’t the massive slabs that bury everything in their path, Sam acknowledges these are technically still avalanches and are important to identify because they can be a sign of other instabilities or dangers.

“Really what we’re concerned about here is one of the smaller sloughs pushing us over a cliff or into tree wells, a place that we don’t want to be,” Sam says. “Generally speaking, a slough is not going to be large enough to bury you, but it can put you into a situation that you don’t want to be in. These are going to happen generally in steeper terrain, and they’re going to require fresh snow and it needs to be fairly cold.”


Frequently referred to or seen as roller balls coming off of rocks, also happening in steep terrain. These can be a sign of more instabilities further to come throughout the day as things warm up.

Loose-wets are generally going to occur with fresher snow as it is exposed to sunshine and warming air. They can be seen as “roller balls” coming off rocks in steep terrain and they are also a sign of other instabilities to come as the day warms.

“They’re a little more concerning than our loose-dries because they do have some more weight to them and could potentially twist a knee or are more likely to push you into a position that you don’t want to be in,” Sam says.

As Sam points out, slab avalanches are generally considered the most dangerous or life-threatening, but recognizing the two types of loose avalanches can be useful.

“Learning how these problems form and where they exist in the terrain and how they release, is going to give you a leg up in making a plan and then working to mitigate that problem and avoid it while you’re out there.”

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