Brendan F. Wakefield
M.R.M. research project no. 733, 2019-8. School of Resource and Environmental Management. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C.
Publication year: 2019


Terrain selection is the primary tool for managing avalanche risk during backcountry travel. While some research has examined revealed preferences in professional ski guides to better understand terrain-use choices, the exclusive focus on physical terrain characteristics pertaining to avalanche hazard has offered an incomplete perspective. I present a new framework that comprehensively captures all decision relevant terrain characteristics and links these features to decision-making in heli-ski guides. Using survey data from two operations, I employed ordinal
logistic regression models to quantitatively describe the relationship between specific terrain features and guide perceptions of accessibility, skiing experience, hazard potential, and “guideability.” A Poisson regression model linking these perceptions to terrain use at one operation clearly illustrates how guide decisions are trade-offs between hazards and operational benefits. The framework provides researchers interested in terrain preferences with a structured approach to describe terrain more completely, and it offers practical benefits to heli-ski operations and guides.

Click here to access a copy of Brendan’s thesis.

Ski run characterization framework

For this research, SARP developed a detailed online survey that mechanized skiing operations can use to develop comprehensive ski run catalogues. In addition to describing the hazard potential of a ski run, the survey also includes questions about the accessibility of runs, the quality of the skiing experience, the operational role and value of runs, and information on past incidents. The objective of this survey is to capture the terrain knowledge and expertise of an operation and make it more easily accessible to guiding and management teams. This will lead to better informed decisions about terrain use and risk management.

The survey website can be accessed at Use the following credentials to examine the functionality of the survey as a test users:

  • Username:
  • Password: test&1234