‘The Avalanche Handbook’
— David McClung & Peter Schaerer
The Avalanche Handbook is one of the most comprehensive references on avalanches available, and mandatory reading for avalanche assessment professionals. Whether or not this book is appropriate for the layman, however, is a more complicated mattter.
Obviously, skiers, snowboarders, and backcountry travelers owe a great debt to professional forecasting, where available. But should the average weekend warrior be taught to dig snow pits, examine snow crystals, estimate stability—when no professional assessment is available?
For a long time, my answer was an emphatic 'No.'
Puffing up backcountry skiers with two days of avy training and a book seemed to me the height of folly, encouraging people to ski unconsolidated snow based on the false assumption that they have the skills to accurately assess the risk.
Reality, however, has a way of adjusting opinion.
And the reality is, backcountry skiers are skiing midwinter snow in greater numbers every year, whether or not they have the assessment skills to safely do so.
In the face of this trend, it can be argued that any avalanche education is better than none.
Teach skiers how to dig a snow pit and recognize gross instability, even it means they'll miss many of the more subtle clues. Spark curiousity about the process of avalanche assessment, and maybe they'll continue their education, and even spread it to others.
McClung and Schaerer's Avalanche Handbook is an excellent—if advanced—part of the education process. It remains a comprehensive look at the physical processes involved in snow's life-cycle, and how these processes contribute to avalanches.
The Avalanche Handbook is perhaps not the best introductory text avalable on the subject: the book may be too intidimidating to neophytes. As your interest in understanding avalanches grows, however, it remains an essential addition to your mountaineering library.