Simon Horton, Pascal Haegeli, Grant Statham, Bret Shandro, Taylor Clark, Stan Nowak, Moses Towell, Heather Hordowick, and Florian Herla
Proceedings of the 2023 International Snow Science Workshop in Bend, Oregon
Publication year: 2023

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Over the past 20 years, avalanche safety operations in North America adopted common standards for assessing avalanche hazard, including the North American Public Avalanche Danger Scale, avalanche problems, and the conceptual model of avalanche hazard. While these systems aim to provide a consistent, structured way to assess and communicate avalanche hazard, practical experience and several studies have shown that there is considerable variability in how the standards are understood and applied. To examine their use and effectiveness more systematically, the Simon Fraser University Avalanche Research Program has conducted several projects focused on how forecasters apply danger ratings and avalanche problems. This paper synthesizes the key results of this research, with a focus on the practical implications for avalanche forecasters. We begin with a brief review of the individual projects, which span from statistical modelling of large datasets to qualitative interviews with forecasters. We then synthesize common themes found throughout the research, which include inconsistencies between forecasters, limitations of the published standards, and complications arising from the contextual nature of hazard assessments. Recommendations to increase quality and consistency include clarifying published standards, developing evidence-based decision aids, improving training and communication amongst forecasters, and further research into how danger ratings and problems are used to manage risk.