CUNEO – THE ALPS
In 2009 I went to Cuneo in Italy to trek around the Alps and get some experience of walking through deep snow in preparation for my forthcoming trip to Patagonia and Antarctica in 2010.
I invited a friend of mine Ady, an experienced mountaineer from up North who offered to give me some tips on the different types of snow grades to look out for and how to get myself out of a snow pack, this is when you suddenly find yourself waist height and above in snow and have to kick your way out of it.
Ady told me that there are 5 types of snow that you need to know about when out and about trekking or climbing, it is essential to know about these for your own safety:
The five types of snow
This is the fresh fallen snow, it is extremely soft and easy to walk through and if you fall over generally you will not be hurt, often referred to as ‘forgiving’ snow it is a pleasure to walk through as so little effort is required. Though please be aware that it does cover up and hide rocks and crevasses which are dangerous and so care is still needed at all times regardless of the snow grade.
This is widely known as the next step up from powder and is where the snow gets packed in certain places and piled up in others, it tends to form an even uneven surface with slippery patches along with large lumps of powder and is uneven and bumpy.
This type of crust snow forms when the sun melts the top layer of powder and the cold wind then makes it freeze solid again, this crust will then sit upon softer powder snow, sometimes it can be walked upon as a harder layer but often it will give way as the crust can be patchy and this can break ankles so be aware and use caution in this type of snow.
Slush is basically snow that has started to melt and therefore becomes more wet, this snow is heavier than light drift/powder snow, and can be slippery to walk through and will soak any none waterproof footwear and trousers.
Up on the slopes you will find snow that has been melted and frozen many times this then forms icy compacted snow which is the opposite to powder as it is hard, slippery and nowhere near as forgiving as the powder snow. It is incredibly rare that you will encounter a slope full of this icy stuff but beware that it can happen.
You must also be aware of cornices the overhanging formations of windblown snow which can be unstable and hard to see from the windward side, these are lethal and care must be taken at all times, never hurry, move slowly and take your time to ‘test it out’ before moving forward.