Tip #47 – Sastrugi

By 10th February 2020 Resources, Tips


This tip is all about Sastrugi which, along with rime ice, are very useful in determining what the local wind direction has been recently. This knowledge plays a crucial part in our avalanche decision-making process by indicating where the dangerous lee slopes may be.

Sastrugi are slightly reminiscent of sand dunes in the snow. Like rime ice, the direction of the wind that they indicate is slightly counter-intuitive. Sastrugi are carved out and eroded by the wind, which gradually wears away at the windward side and deposits the snow crystals on the sheltered side of the increasingly growing feature. The steep, scarp side is the side that has been carved and thus indicates the direction of that the wind has come from.

Sastrugi can be just a centimetre or so high, but in time can also become several feet high and can be physically difficult to move across.

Knowing where the wind has come from then makes it clear where the leeward (sheltered) side of any slopes are. This is where the wind will deposit snow, potentially (or most likely) creating areas that are dangerously avalanche-prone.