Join NWAC in supporting the eleventh annual Northwest Snow and Avalanche Workshop (NSAW). NSAW is a workshop-style educational seminar targeted to professionals and avid backcountry recreationists. Join us for a full day of avalanche education presented by some of the leading researchers and avalanche practitioners in North America.
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Avalanche Safety – It Takes a Village
Lowell Skoog, Seattle
The 11th edition of the Northwest Snow and Avalanche Workshop reflects the continued growth of winter recreation in the Northwest and the increasing sophistication of our avalanche safety programs. Today we take advantage of a broad set of resources to plan winter activities and stay safe in avalanche country. In this presentation, Lowell Skoog will describe how some of these programs in the Northwest came to be. Who were the pioneers? What did they do? How did we get to where we are today? Lowell believes that knowledge of the past can provide inspiration for the future.
This talk is expanded from an exhibit at the Washington State Ski and Snowboard Museum (WSSSM). Lowell is a board member at the museum, a retired engineer, long-time Northwest skier, writer and historian. Lowell is also chairman of the Mountaineers History and Library Committee. Lowell spoke about "Safety and Success on Cascade High Routes" at the 2nd NSAW in 2008. He shares his research, photography, and writing on the Alpenglow Gallery website (www.alpenglow.org) and through occasional posts on turns-all-year.com and Facebook.
The White Heat Project: Combining GPS Tracking and Risk Motivation of Backcountry Skiers and Riders
Jerry Johnson, Montana State University
Jerry Johnson is a professor of political science at Montana State University. His research interests include decision making in avalanche terrain by groups and individuals. He is a lifelong skier and volunteer ski patrol at Big Sky resort.
A common phrase in avalanche education is when the snowpack is your problem, terrain is your solution. This widely used concept stresses the basic idea that by using appropriate terrain a backcountry traveler can avoid snowpack instability and thereby minimize avalanche risk. Therefore, when we examine a GPS track of a person moving in the backcountry, we can observe and measure, some of the decisions made at critical junctures during the tour. Essentially, this track is a geographic expression of the cascade of decisions – as a function of the snowpack, trip goals, group dynamics and other factors.
We will present a summary of our results from three seasons of tracking volunteers as measured by GPS tracks from our crowd sourced decision making project SkiTracks(www.montana.edu/snowscience/tracks). Using our extensive database, we will show the role of experience, age, education, group size, group dynamics and avalanche danger rating on resulting terrain use.
While we have explored several areas of interest and can relate our findings to prior literature related to decision making and risk in avalanche terrain, we still only have a tenuous understanding of the motivation for observed risk taking behavior. To address this, we present a new line of inquiry to our study. With support for the Norwegian Research Foundation and in partnership with UiT - The Arctic University of Norway, in Tromsø, we examine the reasons and motivations for differential risk taking behavior. A pilot study undertaken in Norway in the Spring of 2017 will be presented, and participants will be sought for the 2017/18 winter study in the USA. For more information, please visit: The White Heat Project: https://whiteheatsite.wordpress.com/
Do Avalanche Airbags Lead to Riskier Choices in the Backcountry?
Pascal Haegeli, Assistant Professor at Simon Fraser University
Dr. Pascal Haegeli is a renowned expert in avalanche safety research working on projects in Canada and worldwide. His primary research and development interests lie at the interface between the natural and social sciences and his objective is to conduct interdisciplinary research and develop evidence-based tools that assist backcountry recreationists and avalanche professionals to make better informed decision when preparing for and travelling in avalanche terrain. To address these challenges, Dr. Haegeli and his research team employ approaches and methods from a wide variety of fields including atmospheric science, snow science, geography, GIS, risk analysis, decision-making science, communication, psychology, sociology, accident analysis, public health and medicine.
Research has shown that avalanche airbags are an effective tool for reducing mortality among backcountry travelers caught in avalanches. However, it is often suggested that the added safety benefit might lead to increased risk-taking among airbag users, a phenomenon referred to as risk compensation or risk homeostasis. Haegeli et al. (2014) showed that the benefits of avalanche airbags are quickly nullified if they are used to travel in terrain that is capable of producing larger avalanches.
While existing research on the effect of helmet use among cyclists and alpine skiers and snowboarders has not revealed evidence of increased risk-taking, avalanche airbags have characteristics that might make them more likely to cause risk compensation behavior: They are expensive, they are heavier than regular backpacks and users’ motivation to go into the backcountry is to ski or ride slopes that can avalanche. However, reliably measuring risk compensation behavior in avalanche terrain is challenging as experimental studies are impossible, accident analyses depend on reliable incident reporting, and backcountry travelers might not respond truthfully to direct questions about their risk-taking behavior.
In this presentation, we will discuss the results from an extensive online survey that approached the topic of avalanche airbags and risk compensation from a variety of directions. The central part of our survey was a discrete choice experiment, where participants had to make travel decisions in hypothetical, but realistic backcountry situations with and without airbags. While our results confirm that there is a strong perception that airbags can lead to increased risk-taking, we did not find empirical evidence that they do. This result is consistent with previous research. However, results from online surveys should be interpreted with caution and being fully aware of how the use of airbags might affect personal risk-taking behavior is critical for their effective use.
Target audience: Given the increasing popularity of avalanche airbags among recreationists and their increasing penetration in the avalanche workplace, having an in-depth understanding of the potential effect of airbags in backcountry behavior is critical for their effective use.
Climate Variabilities and Avalanche Hazard: What can the Seasonal ENSO Forecast tell us About the Nature of the Upcoming 2017/2018 Winter?
Bret Shandro, Simon Fraser University
Pascal Haegeli, Assistant Professor at Simon Fraser University
The effects of large-scale climate variabilities, such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), on winter temperature and precipitation patterns in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada are well understood. However, relatively little is known regarding the link between these climate variabilities and the nature of avalanche hazard. Existing studies have analyzed long-term avalanche activity records along highway passes—the most reliable avalanche datasets available—but insights have so far been limited. We believe that the limited results are at least partially due to the narrow local representativeness of these data sets, their susceptibility to changes in avalanche mitigation practicesand the fact that avalanche activity alone only provides a limited perspective on the nature of avalanche hazard.
Bret has recently completed his Master’s in the MRM program and has been working with SARP since 2015. His research focuses on examining the prevalence and character of different avalanche problem types (e.g., persistent slab avalanche problem, storm slab avalanche problem) in western Canada using the information presented in avalanche bulletins published by Avalanche Canada and Parks Canada. Bret’s backgrounds is a BSc in Civil Engineering from the University of Alberta.
Since the winter of 2009/10, avalanche bulletins in western Canada are produced according to the Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard. Based on the available weather, snowpack and avalanche observations, avalanche forecasters identify avalanche problems and characterize the associated hazard in a well-structured and quantitative manner. The resulting dataset offers a much more comprehensive and consistent perspective on the nature of avalanche hazard conditions with a much broader spatial coverage than existing avalanche activity datasets. This provides unprecedented opportunities for characterizing local snow and avalanche climates and studying their variability.
Using public avalanche bulletins from the 2009/10 to 2016/17 winter seasons from Avalanche Canada and Parks Canada,we have quantitatively examined the nature and variability of avalanche hazardin western Canada and studied its relationship to relevant large-scale climate variabilities. In this presentation, we will discuss how we condensed avalanche bulletins of an entire season into a meaningful, numeric characterization of an avalanche winter that can be correlated with indices of climate variabilities. Our results provide new insight on the character of avalanche hazard in western Canada and the found relationships to climate variabilities open new opportunities for seasonal avalanche hazard forecasts. We will conclude our presentation by examining what our results can tell us about the nature of the upcoming 2017/18 winter in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada.
Using Time-Lapse Photography to Monitor High-Use Backcountry Avalanche Terrain
Diana Saly, M.Sc candidate at Montana State University
Diana Saly is a master’s candidate at Montana State University using time-lapse photography and GIS to study skier use in avalanche terrain. Winter recreation in mountainous terrain has noticeably increased in recent years. Backcountry avalanche terrain adjacent to ski areas presents compounding challenges in that uncontrolled avalanche terrain is both easily accessible and excessively tracked out, sometimes more than inbounds terrain. Time-lapse photography is utilized to capture skiers in high-use backcountry avalanche terrain. Incorporating GIS and spatial data, images capturing skier usage in back country avalanche terrain are used to study group and individual terrain choices and classify terrain based on usage, slope and conditions, and gain insight on the effect of skier compaction on snowpack evolution.
On January 14, 2016 an avalanche occurred on the Football Field of Saddle Peak in Southwest Montana. Saddle Peak is a backcountry slope, located immediately adjacent to the Bridger Bowl Ski Area boundary and accessed from the Bridger Bowl Schlassmans Lift. A time-lapse digital SLR camera mounted on an unused gun platform with a clear view of Saddle Peak captured the avalanche. Diana Saly (researcher) and Doug Richmond (Bridger Bowl Patrol Director) met at the gun platform where Richmond was initiating and coordinating the response. The team reviewed the images and assessed skier involvement within minutes of the event. Two skiers were photographed in close proximity to the avalanche during release and resulting avalanche. Both skiers were photographed returning to the ski area boundary following the avalanche and confirmed as not involved. A short video (2 min) was developed to document the January 2016 event and demonstrate the value of this technology for rescue and emergency situations. The data also provides an opportunity to document terrain use in different snowpack and avalanche conditions by travelers in easily accessed back country terrain.
Using GPS Tracking and Psychographic Surveys to Analyze Decision-Making of Lift Access Backcountry Skiers on Saddle Peak, Bridger Mountains, MT
John Sykes, M.Sc candidate at Montana State University
Poor decision-making by educated and experienced backcountry recreationists comprise a large portion of avalanche incidents and fatalities in North America. Previous research on decision-making in avalanche terrain based on accident analysis and user surveys has identified many ‘human factors’, or behavioral patterns that lead to high risk decision-making. Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking provides a quantitative analysis of terrain selection by backcountry users. When combined with a public avalanche forecast and current weather conditions, can estimate the level of risk taken by each user.
This research focuses on the analysis of GPS tracks and implementation of a geographic information system (GIS) model to extractterrain metrics from publicly available GIS data. In addition to the GPS tracks,psychographic surveys are administered to evaluate factors that contribute to decision-making processes of participants. Using a GIS,each GPS track isanalyzed for slope angle, aspect, elevation, slope shape, and land cover type. These terrain parameters are primary indicators of avalanche terrain severity as developed by the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES), a standard for mapping avalanche terrain for public communication developed by Parks Canada and the Canadian Avalanche Center (Statham, McMahon, and Tomm, 2006). Analysis of the terrain used byparticipants in combination with survey responses will highlight population demographics and decision-making strategies that correspond with higher levels of risk in avalanche terrain.
Looking Forward to the Winter of 2017-18 in the Pacific NW
Nick Bond, Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean
This presentation will review the latest projections for the weather in the Pacific NW during the upcoming winter in the context of the data record over the last few decades. The topics to be covered include probable seasonal mean anomalies in temperature and precipitation, and tendencies related to episodic events such as floods and windstorms.
Snow Algae and Citizen Science in the North Cascades
Robin Kodner, Kodner Lab at Western Washington University
Robin Kodner has been an assistant professor of Biology at Western Washington University since 2012. She earned her PhD at Harvard University followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Washington Friday Harbor Labs and School of Oceanography. Robin started her research career studying algal evolution over geologic time and moved to studying modern marine algal communities so that we could learn how they are responding to/impacting climate change. Her passion for being in the mountains has led Robin to expand her marine-based research into the mountains, applying the same environmental genomic techniques to study snow algae communities. She is using the snow microbiome as a model to understand how communities evolve in response to climate change.
Who was the Phantom? A Historical Look at Snoqualmie Pass and the Avalanches that gave us our Favorite Runs
Matt Schonwald, Backcountry Adventure Guides
February 9, 1990 brought forth one of the most significant avalanche cycles at Snoqualmie Pass resulting in numerous D3-4 slides that created much of the ski touring terrain we ride today. The cause of that avalanche cycle was Rain on Snow (ROS) resulting from a warming trend at the end of 17’ in 17-day storm. Large Storm Cycles that produce accumulation depth of 2 meters followed by ROS bear responsibility for many of the Cascade’s best known ski tours and largest recorded avalanches (1990, 1999, 2008, 2011 as examples).
We will examine the anatomy of the 1990 Storm Cycle as a baseline to understand the characteristics of these historic events in the context of developing better decision making when confronted by Low Frequency High Consequence Avalanche Problems. By studying what created our favorite runs, it will allow us a greater understanding of the unpredictable nature of Deep Slabs and why these predators patrolling our snowpack demand respect and our full attention when present.