You should probably equip yourself with every tool you possibly can.A different framing of the question could be: Does a person with training survive more frequently when making a visit into avalanche terrain than someone with no training? Is there a point at which what more training stops/starts influencing survival rates?
Personally I think a focus on desired objectives is dangerous.I just finished my AIARE 1 with my two oldest sons in Crested Butte last weekend. Highly recommended.
First question in decision making is: what do you want to ski?
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Terrain is the only variable we control.
What I meant by that is aligning the desire to ski good snow and/or terrain to a plan that is set before you leave. The rest of this is a general comment to what backcountry decision making training (it’s not avy safety training) actually is, at least as I just experienced it.Personally I think a focus on desired objectives is dangerous.
I like to discuss what we may like to do with partners but hold on to a “well let’s take a look and decide from there” sort of attitude.
Interesting. It sounds like they had a heavy focus on mixed group dynamics. That’s cool.What I meant by that is aligning the desire to ski good snow and/or terrain to a plan that is set before you leave. The rest of this is a general comment to what backcountry decision making training (it’s not avy safety training) actually is, at least as I just experienced it.
Asking “what” It’s just a nod to the why, and it addresses a lot of the question posed in the title of this thread. It’s not about risk taking, which isn’t the objective or an objective at all. It’s about incredible skiing and winter touring (at least that’s how I see it). So asking your group, “what would you like to ski?” Is an opportunity to assess if that desire is consistent with problem management to known general conditions and weather forecasts. If the group goal is not consistent, I am not going.
The core focus of the training we just took is that you build a plan in a warm room with cool heads factoring in the daily avalanche problem statement (in most of CO that is persistent slab, east side of the compass, wind slab), known weak layer types and dates of formation (if available as they are in CB) plus the weather forecast (sun, wind, temp, storm) and then you can build a plan A, B, C.
One of the things consistently reinforced was that plan B shouldn’t suck, like it’s A is a killer big mountain line and B is a boot pack down scree slope if A isn’t certain enough. Maybe B is something lower angle sheltered with likely good snow, or the glades off the bowl edge. And then the actual observations on the approach make us more or less certain. Less certain we drop to plan B or C. More certain we stick with A, but A was never walking into known problems.
Another key point was “respect any veto”. If somebody is spooked, they have veto. No matter where you are or how far you’ve come. In this course, it was advised to go in the safest numbers of 3-5, which is counter to heuristics that suggests those are dangerous numbers. The script flips when the decisions are pre-made and you don’t switch unless maybe you got your map assessment totally wrong and there’s a good aspect that can be angle measured to be in your pre-agreed pitch tolerance.
This happened to my group in the last day of the course. 6 people in the group, we don’t know each other except one of my sons waa in my group. We talk about “what do you want to ski” to make sure nobody goes way above their level, “how are you feeling today?”. I say, “perfect for me would be a moderate pitch saddle under 30° with more interesting terrain than a straight face drop, east to north for best potential of good snow 3 days after a storm.”
We were pre-selected to go to Coney’s, which is a ridge up a wide gulch facing NE. The main lines are right at 30°, with the convex rolls up to to 32°. Just north of this, the topo map shows lower pitch and what looks like a saddle with a right turn runout. I propose this as plan A, with B going up into the glades under the ridge. My group can’t get onboard with this (30° is right at top pitch) so A becomes up under the glades.
On approach, what I thought looks to be true. So I stop and say “will we change plans, we talked about this saddle, we pinned it on the map, we can measure the pitch”. I got some yes and mostly no, because we had agreed to a lesser Plan A. So we stuck with our plan.
The sweet thing is we found perfect conditions for very little effort that we lapped instead of busting to the top of the ridge and getting one run where there were already a lot of tracks. But even in a group of strangers, we respected the veto (and our instructors said in a case like that they mIght make a plan change). Every other group went to the top. We had no real reason to not have a bigger line as Plan A, but that was group dynamics.
How risky is back country skiing if Plan A is to stick to relatively sheltered areas 30° or under, when avalanche problems are existing and known, weather is neutral, and ingress and egress do not travel under potential slide paths?
The idea posed by this thread, at least as I see it, is that the goal of backcountry skiing is risky terrain. We can’t control the snowpack (we can understand it relatively easily), we can’t control trigger (we are one and nature provides them), but we can control terrain choice and there is endless backcountry terrain that may fit inside of proper risk assessment.
Quoted for truth.... I think the problem is often more with the same groups who are on like their 12th trip.
I used to fly a lot in helicopters as crew or passenger, and something a pilot said once after deciding to turn around really stuck with me - “Those clouds have rocks in them.”You have to wonder if scenarios such as dense fog had been discussed well before with the client, and agreed upon, the decision to turn around or set it down would’ve been much easier. Not just a vague, “well do what you think best”.
I am not a backcountry skier, but I am interested in risk-taking and how that happens.
Risk-taking behavior applies even to novices who just took a lesson from me, making decisions as they head out to ski on blue groomers with friends.
I just re-read this article (https://www.outsideonline.com/1915051/colorados-loveland-pass-avalanche-lessons-learned) on the five deaths of highly-educated backcountry adventurers in the 2013 Loveland Pass avalanche.
The fact that the deaths came to highly informed people prompted this question in the middle of the article:
"Is backcountry education able to mitigate the level of risk riders take on?"
Here's another article on this subject, the 2012 avalanche at Tunnel Creek where 3 died. The group that headed out was experienced and well-informed and prompted this description in the article: “It was a very, very deep, heavy, powerful, strong group of pro skiers and ski industry people.”
In both of these deadly avalanche events, highly informed people died. Given the current discussions about avalanche safety behavior, I thought it might be useful to isolate this question.Fresh powder beckoned 16 expert skiers and snowboarders into the backcountry. Then the snow gave way.www.nytimes.com
Is education about avalanche safety the answer?
That is the perfect tldr version of my last post. We did exactly the same thing. 3) the is “is what we want to ski consistent with what we should ski?”I also took my AVI I class last weekend. Interestingly, one of my teachers says she often asks her partners two questions:
1) What do you want to ski?
Followed quickly by
2) What should we ski?
So I asked a ton of questions around decision making, both trying to find the magic and to have my sons hear the answers. No magic, of course.Sounds line a good process. I think the problem is often more with the same groups who are on like their 12th trip.
Guys at Loveland Sheep Creek? What was up with that decision making?
Having a fall back or pre arranged turn around, like when summiting Everest, sounds like a really good idea.
In the moment pressures, “weve come this far”, etc can have bad consequences.
Perhaps it’s relevant with Kobe Bryant’s pilot. Very experienced. The company was not certified for instrument flying rules. Even though he was capable. Apparently, very few in LA are. Even the Lapd. Just not worth it. So he couldn’t really go through the fog. Perhaps he was trying to stay under and work it out.
You have to wonder if scenarios such as dense fog had been discussed well before with the client, and agreed upon, the decision to turn around or set it down would’ve been much easier. Not just a vague, “well do what you think best”.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman often come up on discussions of heuristics.Getting educated on heuristics is a darn good start to mitigating risk and understanding our own psychological decision making. We tend to be our worst enemies out there and most accidents are tied to heuristic short cuts or just plain out ignoring obvious red flags because desire is over riding rational thinking.
This book IS fascinating and reads much faster than most historical non-fiction. Don't let the page number turn you off. I'm actually thinking of re-reading it. And if you get the e-book version through purchase or the library, page number is someone irrelevant.The content in Kahneman's book is fascinating. But the book weighs a ton and is 499 pages long. I found a summary somewhere online. Can't find the reference right now, but that summary was a fun read a few summers ago.
When I took the course my instructor brought up the question “were we good, or were we lucky?”. Basically did we make questionable decisions and get away with it, or did we actually make good decisions.And the team debriefs after every trip. What went well? What could we have done better? I overheard three younger guys who had just skied the face of Coney’s that none of our groups agreed was within “what should we ski?”. They were talking about max pitch of 32°, conditions, etc.
In other words, they were debriefing. It’s a culture.