The Human Factor — Black Diamond Skiing Avalanche Safety

Post by blogger | March 23, 2015      


Truth. What gets us in trouble with avalanches is ourselves. Black Diamond did a reasonable job with branded content covering the basics of “human factors.” About time we covered here, backstory for next winter or perhaps you’re in the southern hemisphere just gearing up for a winter of skiing. Last winter down there was devastating, let’s hope better news is enjoyed this season.

The video series is a bit disjointed and short, but perhaps brief is good. I was impressed at what they’re using to illustrate these educational videos. Wonderful to see a company go all-in on the safety aspect. As they should. The seemingly endless tragic litany of backcountry skiing avalanche accidents — every winter, a funeral dirge — has become a deeply dark side to what is otherwise beautiful modern ski mountaineering. I’ll admit I’m troubled by it all.

As I’ve written about many times, it appears 1.) Many skiers simply don’t know or acknowledge how much risk they’re actually taking. 2.)Human factors cloud our thinking and judgment even if we do perceive the risk. 3.)Perhaps the only way to stay responsibly safe while ski touring is to use set procedures of decision making, instead of blundering. Watch these short films over and over again. Train your mind. Then evaluate your own behavior each time you touch avalanche terrain.

I attempted to organize below so we have a blog post for viewing and discussion. Suggestions and comments welcome. I’m not sure how the powers that be intended all this stuff to integrate together, but over at the alter of freeride, you can view a good multimedia exposition of human factors.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5a

Chapter 5b


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6 Responses to “The Human Factor — Black Diamond Skiing Avalanche Safety”

  1. kyle tyler March 23rd, 2015 10:10 am

    Lou, nice. just siting home with a day off reading through old ISSW abstracts on some of my favorite topics—from mixed mode anticrack , fracture mechanics, propagation propensity of persistent weak layers, false stable, the extended column test: a field test for fracture initiation and propagation, terminology and predominant process associated with the formation of weak layers of near-surface faceted crystals in the mountain snowpack and misc paperers by Ian McCammon. nice to stop and watch the video series. nice to understand the above stuff but one must know your decision making process and ones risk styles————————————– would like to send you our snowpack along with our temps—still cold-been a long one for us. thanks–kyle tyler

  2. Paul Mason March 26th, 2015 4:44 am

    Just what I’m looking for. With the huge number of avalanches in the Alps this winter I’m trying to build a library of short avalanche related media to help educate our guests on the dangers of unguided off-piste and back-country skiing. Thanks, Paul.

  3. Lou Dawson 2 March 26th, 2015 5:51 am

    Paul, all good, but are not quite a few of this winter’s accidents involving guides? Can you give a breakdown of the numbers? Lou

  4. Kristian March 26th, 2015 8:24 pm

    Beyond Excellent Awesome Video

  5. gringo March 27th, 2015 4:42 am

    Lou your follow up to Pauls question reminds me of a very sensitve observation I have made over the past 15 years, and since you broke the ice, I would like to air my concern:

    While as a rule Euro guides all have UIAGM (and not very many Americans do) , I am always suprised to see how comfortable Euro guides are with gangbanging big alpine slopes with paying customers!

    I spent my guiding days mostly in the Tetons and Wasatch and was all about the Down, and was always focused on pow and not summits like most guides in the Alps. From even before my apprenticeship, it was always the highest priority to keep the amount of people in harms way at any given moment to an absolute minimum. This goes against about 90% of the guides I have seen operating in the Alps in my many seasons in Europe.

    I am going to stick my neck WAY out and use Ruedi Beglingers accident as an example of the euro guide style not being as safe as we would all like it to be when we see the UIAGM pin on the jacket.

    How is it that American Guides developed a much more cautious approach to the question of how many people on a slope at the same time is considered safe?

    To be clear: I dont intend to blame anyone for anything, simply stating observations which bother me. Also, much respect to Ruedi, he is a F’ing legend.

  6. Lou Dawson 2 March 27th, 2015 5:16 am

    Economics 101, and also balancing various types of risk, e.g., get out from under mountain face sooner… But mostly pure economics, guides need to make a living and it’s tougher to find clients who want to pay the expense of lower guide/client ratios. Also, groups of friends do frequently hire guides and want to ski together, so the guide does the best they can to move the group along. Whatever the case, it’s painfully obvious that avalanche deaths could be greatly reduced worldwide if only one person at a time was exposed to hazard. Actually pretty surprising this simple thing is obfuscated by attention to psychological crutches like airbag backpacks, but I guess that’s human nature. Technology can save lives, but it has to be the _last_ part of the overall safety practice. Lou

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