The Industrial Research Chairs (IRC) program of Canada’s Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) intends to assist universities in building on existing strengths to achieve the critical mass required for a major research endeavour in science and engineering of interest to industry; and/or assist in the development of research efforts in fields that have not yet been developed in Canadian universities but for which there is an important industrial need. In 2017, Dr. Haegeli was awarded the NSERC IRC in Avalanche Risk Management, which is a collaboration between NSERC, SFU, Canadian Pacific Railway, HeliCat Canada, the Canadian Avalanche Association and Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing.

Research Objectives

Between 2017 to 2022, the research program of the NSERC IRC in Avalanche Risk Management aims to advance avalanche risk management comprehensively by conducting applied research that simultaneously targets hazard assessment and risk mitigation. This objective requires an interdisciplinary approach that builds on traditional, natural-science–focused avalanche safety and systematically integrates practitioner know-how using research methods from such areas as decision theory, risk analysis, geographic information science, and simulation modelling.

Theme 1: Avalanche hazard modelling

The research program consists of two main themes. The first aims to improve our ability to assess avalanche hazard. The Chair will combine existing numerical models that simulate the seasonal evaluation of the snowpack with practitioner expertise to develop an expert system that automatically assesses the modelled data and provides an interpretation focused on risk management. The expanded model will improve the ability of avalanche forecasters in western Canada to assess the location, likelihood and severity of avalanches and to choose relevant mitigation measures.

Click here from more information on projects in this research area.

Theme 2: Risk mitigation

The second research theme aims to improve our ability to manage avalanche risk when travelling in the backcountry. Mountain guides have tremendous expertise in avalanche risk management, but this knowledge has so far not been studied or systematically described. The lack of formal structure makes the process vulnerable to human errors and poses a significant hurdle for evaluation, targeted improvements and effective communication.

To improve our understanding of the terrain-selection process and quantify the associated risk, Dr. Haegeli collaborates with a large number of heli- and cat-skiing operations to collect data from the field. Large-scale operational hazard and terrain assessments are complemented by high-resolution GPS tracks of guides’ movements to produce rich datasets. These can be used to extract the intuitive rules used to assess the suitability of terrain under different types of avalanche hazard conditions. Combining this information with records of incidents and near-misses offers new quantitative insights into the risks involved in mechanized skiing and provides the foundation to develop evidence-based tools for improving terrain selection and minimizing avalanche risk.

Click here and here from more information on projects in related research areas.

Research Team

The following SARP Team members are involved in the research projects in the NSERC IRC in Avalanche Risk Management:

Click here for information on opportunities for students to join the research team.

Industrial Partners

The NSERC IRC in Avalanche Risk Management is supported by the following industrial partners: