When travelling in avalanche terrain, avalanche risk is managed by choosing terrain the limits exposure to the existing hazard to an acceptable level while pursuing your activity. While mountain guides have a tremendous amount of practical expertise managing avalanche hazard, there has been very limited academic research on this important topic so far.

Our objective in this research area is to capture and quantitatively describe the risk management expertise of mountain guides to develop tools that make this expertise more easily accessible to avalanche professionals and backcountry recreationists.

Research projects

Current projects

  • Ski run classification for mechanized skiing

    What do the daily 'run list' ratings reveal about the operational character of ski runs?


    The objective of this study was to explore whether large-scale professional terrain choices as systematically documented in the daily run list ratings by commercial backcountry skiing operations can be used to derive a holistic avalanche terrain classification. To identify similarly managed types of terrain we applied a pattern recognition approach in actual large-scale terrain management decisions of avalanche professionals over the course of multiple winter seasons. Terrain types were subsequently characterized with both topographic and operational attributes to provide a better foundation for the analysis of professional terrain management.

    Primary researcher

    Reto Sterchi

    Related publications

    Sterchi et al. (2016) Exploring large-scale terrain preferences for managing avalanche risk in a commercial backcountry skiing operation. Proceedings of the 2016 International Snow Science Workshop in Breckenridge, CO, 838-845.

    Industrial partners

    Northern Escape Helicopter Skiing
    Canadian Mountain Holidays – Galena operation


    University Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management
    MITACS Accelerate in partnership with HeliCat Canada

  • Capturing the essence of heli-skiing terrain

    How can we describe the nature of heli-skiing terrain? What are guides’ perception of the hazard, benefits and access barriers of their ski runs and how consistent are these perceptions?


    Modern guiding teams at heli-ski operations possess extensive knowledge of the terrain existing in their tenure regions. The deep-rooted experience of these guides is obtained through years of practice, and guides develop a sensitive “feel” for how terrain can be used in response to daily avalanche conditions and to fulfill operational needs. The objective of this project is to develop and examine a framework for describing the nature of skiing terrain in a meaningful way that not only focuses on hazard, but also includes information on operational benefits and barriers to access. The information collected in this study will offer novel insight into how guides perceive their skiing terrain and how consistent these perceptions are. The results will provide important information for team calibration, mentorship of new guides and offer critical context for linking terrain choices to hazard conditions in a meaningful way.

    Primary researcher

    Brendan Wakefield

    Related publications

    In preparation.


    – Northern Escape Heliskiing
    – CMH Galena
    – Selkirk Tangiers Helicopter Skiing


    MITACS Accelerate in collaboration with HeliCat Canada.

Relevant past projects

Recent publications

Automated snow avalanche release area delineation in data sparse, remote, and forested regions

Journal PaperTerrain Management
John Sykes, Pascal Haegeli and Yves Bühler
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 22, 3247–3270, https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-22-3247-2022
Publication year: 2022

Quantitative examination of terrain perception and its effect on ski run choices in expert heli-ski guides

Terrain ManagementThesis
Brendan F. Wakefield
M.R.M. research project no. 733, 2019-8. School of Resource and Environmental Management. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C.
Publication year: 2019

Click here for a complete listing of publications on this research topic.