Know your slope, know your risk:
What do you want to know of a backcountry slope?
- Whether it could avalanche today
What will your inclinometer tell you?
- A number indicating the the slope angle
Clinopole inclinometer will tell you in a couple of seconds
the risk of triggering an avalanche on this slope in today's avy danger conditions. Plus the slope angle.
INSTANT CONTACT INCLINOMETRY:
Age-old ski-pole tricks for slope angle estimation
were updated by adding
-a precision spirit level indicator vial on the horizontal pole,
- slope angle grades on the vertical pole,
utilizing basic trigonometric tangent tables.
The result: an accurate and quick contact inclinometry instrument,
for measuring the slope angle right where you are.
PLUS VISUAL AVALANCHE RISK CHECK:
Two established avalanche decision frameworks:
-Most conservative, Norwegian "Afterski" and
-Elementary Reduction Method,
utilize only the slope angle and current avalanche danger
grade to determine the avalanche risk of the slope.
Their recommendations were applied on the pole as color
wedges over the degree markings for immediate risk visualization.
Yellow wedge - for avy danger grade moderate (2)
Orange wedge - for avy danger grade considerable (3)
Red wedge - for avy danger grade high (4)
The wider the wedge,the greater the risk for each
avalanche danger grade.
At lower end of the wedge (Afterski), the risk of triggering
a slab avalanche is practically zero, at the upper end (Elementary
Reduction Method) the risk is roughly that of driving in motorway traffic.
PLUS LINE-OF-SIGHT INCLINOMETRY:
Commercially available and patented PoleClinometer®
sticker for line-of-sight inclinometry of an adjacent slope
(sideways, up- or downhill) was added. Used for alternative route finding.
The fastest, and most reliable slope meter and avalanche
avoidance tool in the world.
In your hands all the way.
-Low-tech powered only by gravity; no worries of battery life or cellphone connection.
-Basic avy avoidance knowledge is built in the pole, you need not memorize lists,
calculations, algorithms etc. Only check the avalanche bulletin before heading out.
-Super easy to use, suitable for DIY and cheap.
-Quick, the tool is at hand all the time.
Avoidance is - or it should be - the most important subject in avalanche education. It covers masses of information on mountains, snowpack, weather, equipment, travel tactics, human behavior etc. Many students feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of facts taught in avy courses. It really takes years to master the avalanche avoidance science. The beginner needs clear and simple means to avoid fatal danger.
The most constant and unequivocal determinant of avalanche triggering is the slope angle.
The simplest avalanche avoidance frameworks (Elementary Reduction method, ERM and Afterski method) utilize only information of the slope angle and the day's avalanche danger grade given in the avalanche bulletin. Their slope recommendations have been shown to be 80% (ERM) to 97% (Afterski) effective in fatal avalanche accident prevention.
Clinopoles combine quick inclinometry and immediate visual risk check, making avalanche avoidance quick and simple even for the less experienced. Using Clinopoles frees energy to learn more of the variables: snow, weather and group dynamics in relation to avalanche risk.
what's in it for me?
Hiking up the slope is great. But you came here to whizz down the slope, not to fiddle with instruments or read avy instruction cards. Inclinometry and slope evaluation are important, but they should not delay your ascent.
Ability to do inclinometry and slope safety evaluation in a couple of seconds results in frequent measurements. We have proven that it also develops your slope angle estimation skills. Repetition is the mother of learning!
Informs you about entering a slope where you may trigger an avalanche, how close to or how far into risk zone you have come: gives impetus and a tool to plan an alternative route.
Backs up even the unpleasant decision to turn around.
Being able to do reliable risk assessment creates confidence and a mindset change from a passive follower of guide or buddies to an alert observer, aware of the conditions.
Allows you to relax and enjoy the slopes you have determined safe, giving freedom to concentrate on other challenges of the sport.
While keeping yourself safe, you will at the same time start developing your mountain sense, instinctive recognition of risky conditions.
...but is not:
CLINOPOLES IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR FORMAL AVALANCHE TRAINING. Rather, it is an invaluable companion after your first avalanche course.
You must also know a lot of the snowpack, weather, group dynamics etc.
Clinopoles help you to keep safe while learning!
It does NOT protect you from avalanches released above you; spontaneously, by someone else, or through remote triggering by yourself.
No avalanche decision framework can give you a 100% guarantee of avoiding self-triggered avalanches.
The freely hanging vertical pole is sensitive to hard wind.
Poles sink in fluffy powder snow: use a ski aligned with surface as a support.
If inclinometry is not done often enough, you may unknowingly wander onto a dangerously steep slope.
Avalanche bulletins are regional. Avalanche risk varies in different slope aspects, altitudes and snow climates.
My name is Matti Verkasalo, and I am a retired pediatrician from Helsinki, Finland. I got hooked by backcountry snowboarding around my forties. I studied hard: books, Internet, out in the snow. Ended up co-authoring the very first Finnish snow safety book.
How did this come about?
I always was somewhat uneasy about inclinometry: I always carried an inclinometer along, but I hardly ever used it on the slopes which I knew could in certain conditions avalanche. I eventually realized that I did not want to stop for the 20-60 seconds it took to shed gloves and poles, secure them on the slope, dig the inclinometer from wherever it was travelling, crouch on the snow for the reading, and doing the same in reverse.
The quick ski pole inclinometry methods interested me. I tried the right angle poles-method, but I was disappointed at its inherent inaccuracy: Vertical pole is vertical because it hangs free, but horizontal can be anything because on the slope you do not have a reference line, and you are too close to judge if the angle between the two poles is 90 degrees. The equilateral triangle-method is accurate, but only on a limited range of 28-32 degrees.
About fifteen years ago I came across a string on ski pole tricks for slope angle estimation in Teton Gravity Research (now extinct) Forum. There ”TeleAl” from Leysin, Switzerland, referred to the same problem, and ended their post with a punchline about ”bringing a level (torpedo)!”
That was intended to be a joke, but some time later I found tiny spirit levels, and started experimenting with them on my poles. Having added tangent-derived degree scale on the vertical pole I realized that ski pole inclinometry changed from estimation to precision measurement.
At the same time I discovered another reason why I did not do inclinometry so often: I had difficulties remembering the combined significance of slope angle and the avalanche danger grade to the risk of triggering a slab avalanche. I realized that I could incorporate the basic avalanche risk information into the tool I carry in my hands all the time. Why should I try to remember things which I could read on my poles?
What is your goal?
I believe that keeping the backcountry traveler constantly aware of the avalanche risk will develop - besides slope estimation accuracy - also the mysterious mountain sense, strengthen their realistic appreciation of potential danger and eventually, save lives. Using Clinopoles will facilitate the internalization of the very basic, unchanging factors of avalanche triggering, while keeping you reasonably safe. The tool frees your mind to observe and learn of the ever-changing aspects of avalanche danger: snowpack, weather, group dynamics etc.
I hope to air my idea, and am open to comments, criticism and suggestions. I am not wishing to set up a business, rather I hope for freeskiing-riding-snowshoeing community participation in refining the idea. And yes, I have got many valuable suggestions over the years!
My ultimate wish is that it would eventually end up in industrial production, and it could help backcountry novices and seasoned travelers as well, to discern when they are entering a slope where avalanches may happen. Then either turn to mellower slope or apply their avalanche avoidance skills right when and where they are needed to prevent accidents.
Clinopoles could be available for rent at ski shops, backcountry/snowshoeing rental agencies, and at avalanche courses.
I imagine that at first individuals could upgrade their poles themselves, or maybe ask the handyman in their ski shop to do it for them. When/if the idea seems viable, the ski pole manufacturers could take up making them.
I am grateful to the organizers of ISSW and Nordic Skredkonferansen for giving me, an individual without institutional snow science background, other credentials, or influential friends, a chance to present my proposal for these prestigious meetings of experts, and thus get a sounding board for this idea.
In 2020 - 2021 we ran a pilot study on the effect of 3-5 days Clinopole use on the accuracy of slope estimation: With only about 6 minutes time expenditure over the whole study period of 3 to 5 day treks, the inclinometry time decreased from 17 to 7 seconds, and the mean slope angle estimation error decreased from 3.25 to 2 degrees. The number of subjects was only 4 rather experienced backcontry skiers, all of whom were new to Clinopole usage. In the season 21-22 we did a larger study, to see if these promising results can be confirmed. Interim analysis showed a statistically significant improvement in the slope estimation accuracy. Further research would look into the effect of Clinopoles usage on the subjects' behavior in avalanche terrain.
Who else is involved?
In bubble vial contact inclinometer with risk indicator markings - nobody else at the moment.
Grayson King at SnoWander LLC, the inventor of PoleClinometer®, has been helpful and encouraging when I asked if I could present the use of his line-of-sight inclinometer and my contact inclinometer in one pair of poles, combined to make a universal instant inclinometer: Clinopoles.
Also the people at GarageGrownGear have helped in details with the PoleClinometer®.
As research collaborators Prof. Gerit Pfühl of Tromso University, M.Sc. Karen Ekman from Trondheim university and Prof. Jordy Hendrikx of Snow and Avalanche Laboratory, Department of Earth Sciences, Montana University.