It has been well documented that with knowledge and experience we can better predict the propensity of avalanches. So how is it that so many experienced people still get caught in avalanches? There really isn’t a simple answer but ultimately it does all boil down to an individuals’ decision-making process at crunch time. Knowledge acts as a set of keys in the mountains and often times the more one knows the more comfortable one feels pushing closer to the limit, consequently shrinking any margin of error.
The following are a few tricks modern avalanche practitioners have come up with to help make better decisions in the field:
Use a checklist. Take it from a pilot, when there are a lot of variables it is easy to forget a few things. APLTRUTh is a great entry level mnemonic and Ian McCammon’s Lemons delve into ideas directly relating to snowpack structure.
Use a run list. Before you even step foot in the field come to a conclusion about what terrain is completely off limits to go into under any circumstance and what other terrain you let yourself decide upon while you are out. This strategy may well take a large emotionally driven mistake out of the picture.
Talk decisions through logically and objectively. If there isn’t a good case don’t press your luck.
Look for reasons why you shouldn’t ski a slope, not reasons to justify that you should. On this note, a snow pit can never tell you that you can ski a slope by itself but it can tell you that you can’t!
Live to ski another day!
Photo: Top of a run in AK. How do you manage your decisions within your group?