Avalanche Pocket Guide — Bruce Tremper
The ‘Avalanche Pocket Guide’ is perhaps most appropriate as an in-field reference to introductory avalanche texts for skiers in their first 50-100 days or 1-3 years (whichever comes last) travelling in avalanche terrain. Long-time backcountry travelers may like it for completeness, or when teaching, but won’t consult it at every decision point during the day. Check one out in person (or in the photos), to decide it’s useful for you.
Disclaimer: I design/make/refine the AvySticker, an experimental tool that goes on an already-expert’s ski to inform daily travel. I picked up the Avalanche Pocket Guide out to see whether Bruce Tremper had developed something similar. They’re different and complementary. My review comes from the perspective of an even-more constrained medium.
The content: The content is the key part of this card. The Pocket Guide is a distillation of many concepts that you’ll find in Tremper’s excellent “Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain” or his updated “Avalanche Essentials”. If you’re familiar with the book (worth a close read, then a quick one every autumn), then the Pocket Guide will quickly recall concepts you’ve read about.
The card covers the gamut of introductory topics: The “front side” has an avalanche gear checklist, an outdoor gear checklist, a beacon check plan, a guide to terrain management, a slope angle diagram (with two visuals), two panels devoted to terrain evaluation, diagrams for windloading and solar effects, a simple diagram for risk exposure, Trempers 10 commandments, and 5 red flags for snowpack instability. The “back side” begins with a “snowpack stabiity checklist” and then covers instability evaluation with test slopes, cornice-dropping, evaluating others’ tracks, hand pits, snow pits, the ECT. There’s a short disclaimer, and then it’s on to attempting to survive an avalanche, managing the scene if another person is caught, good diagrams for beacon search, descriptions of how to search without a beacon, probe lines, and finally, how to dig. Returning to the “front side”, to the back panel when it’s folded up, there’s a “Putting it all together” section. In short, it’s like a high-quality avalanche-awareness class presentation packed into one card; each section sketches the major concepts of topics that will require greater reflection as you learn.
The card needs a short “how to use this card” introduction. As it covers many topics, it doesn’t have a “start here, consider thinking about things in this order” feel nor a prominent over-arching theme/framework for students. The “Snow Stability Checklist” is a highlight, but it’s a general guide, rather than tailored for in-field use.
Developing a succinct reference is a major challenge, as each word, diagram, and table takes precious space and user’s time. The Pocket Guide is hit and miss, some diagrams/pictures are right-on, some could provide more content per unit area. None of the diagrams are too complex, which is imperative and hard to do. If Bruce were to pair up with Allen and Mike (of Allen and Mike’s Avalanche Book) for instability-test diagrams in a second edition, the card might be even better as a teaching tool. That said, several of the diagrams are welcome updates of old classics.
Don’t rely on a pocket card for reminders in an avalanche rescue response. The card is great to learn from, but it should not be needed as a crutch when seconds count. Practice a lot. Get it wired. I’m certain Bruce Tremper would agree.
The inclinometer: The design is elegant, but the performance will be comparable to many other tools. Some crystal cards use the same hole/string/weight approach, too. Angle is angle; get good at estimating it with your tool of choice.
Durability: the Avalanche Pocket Guide is printed on what appears to be water-resistant cardstock. I was initially concerned that it would dissolve quickly when subjected to the Pacific Northwet, but a three hour tour with it in a sweaty thigh pocket in rain/sleet/snow showed only minimal damage. It’ll probably make it about a season before getting completely destroyed with that level of care; that’s just fine, as the idea is that you’ll learn a lot during that time. If you’re using it as a reference, it should be easy to reach — try not to bury it in your pack.
Mass: Information requires negligible physical weight, making it score high on added-safety-per-gram. As I only have one, I can’t quote an errorbar, but my copy has a mass of 33.8 grams.
Final thoughts: The final reference to “Bet with your life?” is spot on. When travelling in avalanche terrain, those are the stakes. Bet with caution; leave a comfortable margin of safety. Getting crippled hurts you, getting dead hurts everyone you know.
The Avalanche Pocket Guide is a good stocking stuffer and in-field reference for novice and intermediate backcountry travelers, but if you have to pick one, Tremper’s “Avalanche Essentials” would go even better under the tree.
If you’d like to pick up one of these Pocket Guides and support this blog at the same time, here’s an Amazon link.