Anne St. Clair, Henry Finn, Pascal Haegeli, Karl Klassen, and Robin Gregory
Avalanche Journal 123 (Spring 2020) p. 28-31
Publication year: 2020

To help winter backcountry recreationists plan for safe backcountry travel, avalanche warning services around the world publish avalanche bulletins with detailed information about avalanche conditions. To be most effective, the bulletin must excel in two capacities: it needs to provide consistent, unbiased, and accurate information; and it needs to deliver information in a way that can be understood by the audience. However, the recreational audience varies widely when it comes to their knowledge, skills, and experience managing avalanche risk. With the rapid growth in backcountry¬†recreation, this range in comprehension continues to expand. It means recreationists interpret bulletin information in different ways. To make it the most effective for the broadest audience, it’s important that we understand and address these differences.

Our industry has made significant advances to improve the accuracy and consistency of forecasts, including developments such as the North American Public Avalanche Danger Scale (Statham et al., 2010) and the Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard (Statham et al., 2018). However, we have yet to explicitly examine how recreationists use bulletins. The objective of our research was to get to know the recreational audience in a way that went beyond demographics or activity type, and that allows us to see them in terms of how they use the bulletin. We explicitly examined how recreationists find, interpret, and incorporate bulletin information into their avalanche risk management practices. This allowed us to identify patterns in bulletin-use behaviour that can be classified into a bulletin user typology. This article provides a brief summary of our first research project in this area.

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