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Particle image velocimetry has been applied to measure particle velocities on the free surface of a bed of particles within a rotating cylinder during avalanching. The particle velocities were used to examine the validity of existing avalanche models and to propose an alternative model. The movement of particles depends on their location on the surface of the bed: Particles located near the center of the bed travel the farthest, while the distance traveled decreases at an increasing rate for particles located farther from the center. The start of an avalanche can be determined to a single initiation point that can be located on the bottom half of the bed; the avalanche quickly propagates through the entire free surface with 90% of the surface in motion within 257 ms (approximately 20% of the total duration of an avalanche). The experimental insight is used to formulate a geometric model, in which three equal-sized sections flow down the bed surface during an avalanch. The predictions of the model are validated by experimental mixing measurements.