Pascal Haegeli and Roger Atkins
Proceedings of 2016 International Snow Science Workshop in Breckenridge, CO, 104-111
Publication year: 2016


In the backcountry, physical risk from avalanches is managed by 1) assessing the nature, severity and spatial distribution of the local hazard based on weather, snowpack and avalanche observations and 2) carefully choosing terrain and travel procedures to mitigate that hazard. While extensive research has been conducted to improve our understanding of avalanche hazard, there is increasing interest in developing a better quantitative understanding of the subsequent risk management process with the goal of developing evidence-based decision aids for avalanche professionals and recreationists. While some studies have attempted to address this challenge, their approach has generally been reductionist and the resulting insights have been limited. The objective of this paper is to provide a more integrated perspective by comprehensively recording and visualizing an entire operating season at CMH Galena–a helicopter skiing operation located in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia. In addition to the operational data collected on hazard conditions, the skiing program and operational constraints, we equipped guides with passive GPS tracking units to capture the full range of terrain choices at an unprecedented level of detail. We suggest that heuristics have evolved to deal with the high number of required decisions in mechanized skiing and that terrain selection involves two processes–habitual patterns combined with targeted adjustments in response to specific hazard conditions and operational needs. Our visualization of the 2015/16 winter season illustrates a number of these patterns. While the comprehensive and detailed recording of terrain choices at participating operations provides the necessary tangible foundation for this collaborative work, we stress that the extraction of meaningful terrain use patterns with the potential to be used for developing decision aids requires a close collaboration between researchers and local guides who are familiar with the intricacies of their operational practices. We are confident that the results of this line of research will offer valuable benefits for both professionals and recreationists traveling in avalanche terrain.