Benjamin Zweifel, Pascal Haegeli
Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism. 5-6, 17-26
Publication year: 2014


The popularity of recreational activities in avalanche terrain has increased dramatically in recent years. Venturing into such terrain also increases the personal risk of injury or death. Whereas the majority of recreationists travel in groups, existing research on the human dimension of avalanche safety has primarily focused on individual decision making. This empirical study aims to fill this gap by investigating aspects of group formation, leadership and decision making among winter recreationists with respect to their ability to make safe decisions when traveling in avalanche terrain. We used a qualitative research design and conducted 29 semi-structured group interviews with backcountry skiers and off-piste skiers in Switzerland during the winter of 2013. Our results show that while the majority of the reported behaviors and strategies are effective at reducing avalanche risk (e.g., traveling in well-established groups or deciding on the basis of well-known avalanche safety rules), others are highly problematic (e.g., traveling in emergent groups or trivializing decisions concerning avalanche danger). The identified behavioral patterns offer valuable insight for the development of effective avalanche safety messages to address weaknesses in group dynamics.

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