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Keep an eye and stay alive, by using the 5 Red Flags

Have you heard of the Five Red Flags? The red flags are simple visual clues that are a sign of potential avalanche danger. I use these observation techniques more than anything else to judge avalanche conditions in the backcountry.

It starts from the second I wake up. When I look out the window on a powder day I see my first red flag – new snow. If I see the trees outside sway in the wind now, I have two red flags – new snow and wind transported snow. Seeing recent avalanche activity on the side of the road driving to the trailhead makes three red flags.

Watching shooting cracks break off of my ski tips skinning up or small slabs peel off my board as I am bootpacking makes four.

Before I even get to the trailhead, I can use the red flags to make decisions as to where I can safely go that day. As the red flags pile up my terrain plans continue to change. Digging a snow pit to analyze the snowpack is also valuable but it is these simple and quick observations that can be used over and over that are the most important.