John Sykes , Håvard Toft , Pascal Haegeli , and Grant Statham
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss. [preprint],, in review
Publication year: 2023

This article is currently under review for the Open Access journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Science. Click here to download a copy.


The Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES) is a system for classifying mountainous terrain based on the degree of exposure to avalanche hazard. The intent of ATES is to improve backcountry recreationist’s ability to make informed risk management decisions by simplifying their terrain analysis. Access to ATES has been largely limited to manually generated maps in high use areas due to the cost and time to generate ATES maps. Automated ATES (AutoATES) is a chain of geospatial models which provides a path towards developing ATES maps on large spatial scales for relatively minimal cost compared to manual maps. This research validates and localizes AutoATES using two ATES benchmark maps which are based on independent ATES maps from three field experts. We compare the performance of AutoATES in two study areas with unique snow climate and terrain characteristics; Connaught Creek in Glacier National Park, British Columbia, Canada and Bow Summit in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Our results show that AutoATES aligns with the ATES benchmark maps in 74.5 % of the Connaught Creek study area and 84.4 % of the Bow Summit study area. This is comparable to independently developed manual ATES maps which on average align with the ATES benchmark maps in 76.1 % of Connaught Creek and 84.8 % of Bow Summit. We also compare a variety of DEM types (LiDAR, stereo photogrammetry, Canadian National Topographic Database) and resolutions (5 m – 26 m) in Connaught Creek to investigate how input data type affects AutoATES performance. Overall, we find that DEM resolution and type are not strong indicators of accuracy for AutoATES, with map accuracy of 74.5 % ± 1 % for all DEMs. This research demonstrates the efficacy of AutoATES compared to expert manual ATES mapping methods and provides a platform for large-scale development of ATES maps to assist backcountry recreationists in making more informed avalanche risk management decisions.