Please Take the Avalanche Safety Survey

Post by blogger | February 19, 2012      

Take the Survey.

You may have noticed the distinct lack of PNW ski reports on Wildsnow lately. That’s mostly because I’ve been granting my schoolwork an inordinate amount of attention. Oh well, skiing in the middle of winter in Washington is all rain, darkness, and heavy snow — at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Anyways, as part of my schoolwork I’m researching how skiers tend to go about avoiding snow avalanches. As one aspect of this, I created a short survey. There’s quite a few avalanche surveys and tests out there, and we’ve even done a few here on Wildsnow in the past.

Most surveys tend to focus on evaluating how avalanche “safe” someone is. This one is much more focused on what tools and techniques you tend to use while backcountry skiing. As such, there aren’t really any wrong answers. I tried to make the survey as short as possible, and it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. So, if you have a minute, it would be great if if you could participate. Here’s a link

Once I get a good amount of responses, I’ll post the results up on Wildsnow for all to see.



20 Responses to “Please Take the Avalanche Safety Survey”

  1. Nick February 19th, 2012 5:33 pm

    Just an FYI but upon taking the survey i was at the “how often do you ski one at a time” question twice.

    This was also a bit sad of a survey as we did just lose 3 people in an Avalanche in the PNW up at Stevens Pass. And also a snowboarder at Alpental (non avy related)

    On that note both sort of combine as my gf asked to go for a short tour last night and i told her no just from our experience up at Stevens ski are the day before (with isolated pockets being easy to get sliding). Sort of a weird way for it all to come together and she learned a bit from it today too.

  2. Louie February 19th, 2012 5:47 pm

    Oops, fixed the double question.

    Just read about that avy at Stevens. Super sad. My prayers go out to the families of those involved.

  3. Plinko February 19th, 2012 8:53 pm

    Sad indeed. Nick, I believe the snowboarder death at Alpental was avalanche related, as he was swept up in a slide which subsequently took him over a near-vertical cliff.

  4. Louie February 19th, 2012 10:41 pm

    According to a this news report, both were from avalanches.

    There appeared to be some confusion on the “experience” question. I changed the wording a bit to make it more clear. Rate based on experience, formal course level, or both. If you have many years of experience, but have never taken a course, you could choose “expert”

  5. AndyC February 20th, 2012 9:59 am

    I took your survey. Some thoughts. How a person goes about evaluating hazard would certainly vary from coastal snowpacks to interior snowpacks–when I ski interior snowpacks like eastern British Columbia I find complete snow pits to be essential; but in my home territory of Mt. Rainier, a wholly different climatic regime, I find my local knowledge and snow and weather history to be of paramount importance. Another distinction that seems important to me is the type of skier–alpine tourer (touring or “touring for turns”) vs ski mountaineer (the summit being a major goal) vs, for want of a better term “free-skier” where skiing the steepest, gnarliest, most challenging lines is the primary goal. These could be aligned on a scale of 1 (just go out and ski the ridges and slopes less than 20 degrees) to 10 (seeks out slopes above 26 degrees, the steeper and deeper the better). Anyhow, sorry for the big digression, but I’m an ex-scientist who has had to deal with interpreting complex questionnaire data.

  6. vanessa February 20th, 2012 11:48 am

    Liked the survey, will be interested to find out the results. You guys are awesome and keep up the good work.

  7. Lou February 20th, 2012 12:11 pm

    Louie, we can publish the results in a few days, correct?

    All, good comments above and I’d agree that in a more major survey some of the questions and related answers could have been refined, but (Louie correct me if I’m wrong) this survey is really to get an overview of what people’s needs are for their safety. Perhaps Louie can expound on the ultimate purpose of that, and how it relates to school.

    Ultimately, I’m now wondering if we should refine this and make it a permanent part of WildSnow. Would be cool to date the results by season and eventually decade, and thus track the trends. For example, I’ll bet a few years ago airbags would not have achieved near the level of favor they now do. Can’t wait to see what you guys think when Louie shares the results.

  8. Lou February 20th, 2012 12:24 pm

    The one-at-a-time idea is just so danged important, and seems to get ignored, forgotten, or just plain messed up way too much all over the world. It is simply an incredibly effective way to save lives, but yeah is so easy to mess up even with good intentions. For example, it sounds like the Stevens Pass folks were attempting to do it, but miss-judged where the save zones were, at least that’s the impression I get from news reports. I’ve made the same mistake myself, and seen other folks do it numerous times. Smaller groups really have it easier in this regard. Radios help too, bigtime.

  9. Shane February 20th, 2012 4:39 pm

    Hey Lou, in regard to safe zones I’ll offer up something I posted on another forum this morning. Considering the need to maintain visual contact with your partner(s) and keeping within a suitable distance to potentially initiate a rescue I think it’s actually very very rare that a BC skier can actually ski to an “island of safety”. Other than maybe ducking around to the side of a chute at the bottom, or skiing up onto small a ridge at the side of a run, I really can’t think of a “safe spot” where I could wait for a partner to ski a run after I’ve already descended. My partners and I ski one at a time and try to wait for each other in “safe” spots but I imagine we’re just kidding ourselves most of the time. Thoughts?

  10. Nick February 20th, 2012 4:58 pm

    i definitely think yo are right in that it can be hard to find a “perfect” safe spot. i remember an avalanche near Snoqualmie last year and hearing from those involved. it occurred on the skin up. The lead guy triggered it. They were moving from “safe” spot to safe spot one at a time. However i remember one guy lost sight of the leader and made a move to where person number 2 was to maintain visual of the leader. While shortly after the leader triggered it and both of those guys where caught.

    Your thoughts and post just reminded me of that. Finding a truely safe spot to wait can be rather difficult. I know when im looking i try for something out of the way as much as possible and if available a spine or feature that sits higher up than the run itself.

    I do think people get into tree’d areas and feel instantly safe…or least more safe. But there are many factors in that such as fall line. It doesnt do any good to be in trees if the slide path is pointed right at those trees (even if the skier is laterally over from them) and i know i’ve been guilty of just getting out of the main run and into the trees only to watch small snowballs within 10-20 feet of me being flung downhill by my partner skiing.

  11. Louie February 20th, 2012 5:20 pm

    Thanks to everyone who’s been taking the survey! There’s been some interesting info, I’ll publish it in a few days.

    I’m no expert on surveys and statistics, consequently many of the questions could be worded better. They still yield interesting info, but they are far from perfect. I’ve tried to change a few of them a bit, but I don’t want to skew the results by messing with it too much.

    Perhaps I’ll make a 2.0 version of this survey sometime in the future.

    Anyone know what the rough equivalent between Canadian and U.S. (AIARE) avalanche courses is? It’s a little tricky, since Canadian courses are divided between professional and recreational, and U.S. aren’t. If I can figure out how they line up, I’ll ad them to the experience question.

    I agree with the comment about safe zones. I’m definitely guilty as well. Sometimes you have to compromise between being able to maintain contact (radios help a lot with this), and being in a safe zone.

    I tend to err on the side of being protected, rather than maintaining contact. Reasoning is that if you’re in a quasi-safe zone, and get buried, you can’t rescue anyone. If you are in a safe zone a bit further away, you can always help, even if it takes a few extra minutes to get to the slide.

    A technique I use often as well is using different safe zones for different members of the group, when skiing with more than 2 people. One person stops in a quasi-safe zone, where he can watch everyone and quickly respond. Everyone else groups up in a “real” safe zone. Worst case scenario is both skier and “quasi-safe” guy get buried, which is still better than the whole group. Lots of times this manifests in the first guy stopping halfway, while everyone else skis all the way to the bottom (convenient for taking pictures too).

    Of course lots of times I’m guilty of not stopping in good safe zones out of pure laziness as well.

  12. Dave February 21st, 2012 9:36 am

    Thanks for gathering and disseminating this info Lou. The drag and drop question didn’t work on my iPad.

  13. Lynne Wolfe February 21st, 2012 8:27 pm

    To answer your question about parallels between Canadian and US avy courses: the US does have a recreational track like the Canadian ASTs, it is level 1 and 2, which are similar to the AST 1 and 2 (might have to go look that second Canadian level up?). The US professional track courses are level 3 for aspiring guides and AVPRO for ski patrol and highway work.

    And if you would like to publish your survey results in The Avalanche Review, give me a holler.

  14. Louie February 21st, 2012 9:17 pm

    From their websites the time requirements for AST and AIARE are:

    AST level 1: 1 day
    AST level 2: 3 days

    AIARE level 1: 3 days
    AIARE level 2: 4 days

    Judging by this, the AIARE courses are perhaps a little more advanced. Especially when you look at cumulative time of both level 1 and 2 (4 days vs. 7 days).

    It’s a little harder to determine where to fit them into the survey. Perhaps for these purposes I should simply lump level 1s together and level 2s together.


  15. Lynne Wolfe February 22nd, 2012 9:33 am

    Sounds reasonable, Louie.

    I would ask, however, that you use AAA level 1s and 2s rather than AIARE 1s and 2s. There are many other organizations out there in the avalanche education world who offer level 1 and 2s. In order to be listed on the website, they all must adhere to the AAA course requirements, follow the curriculum suggestions and desired outcome. The AAA, as a non-profit organization, developed the curriculum guidelines with tremendous input from the entirety of the industry. When you simply state AIARE level 1s are the standard, you do a great disservice to the rest of the American education field.

  16. Matt February 23rd, 2012 1:47 am

    I saw Elyse Saugstad on my local ABC affiliate on Monday night news. She showed the airbag she used, an ABS Powder 15. It looked just like this:$m$

  17. Dylan March 1st, 2012 10:34 pm


    I am just completing a Bachelor of Kinesiology and have been doing an undergrad research project in the studying exercise behaviour. I find the whole sphere of behavioural psych pretty neat and it would be awesome to blend that with my love for the mountains. Not that exercise behaviour isn’t neat, but given my outdoor interests it would be really cool to study something in the realm of backcountry decision making. ‘Risk taking behaviour,’ human factors, group dynamics, it’s all pretty fascinating and meaningful to me.

    Anyway, it was neat seeing your survey come up and I am curious as to what kind of school you are involved in. I am getting on the lookout for what kind of research is being done and where it is being published.

    Looking forward to seeing the survey results.



    P.S. From what I can tell, the Canadian AST 1 & 2 line up pretty well with the curriculum for the AIARE 1 & 2.

  18. Louie March 3rd, 2012 1:54 am


    I’m studying Industrial design. I’m doing a project related to avalanche safety, hence the research. It’s not a research-based degree at all, so some of the questions and stuff could be worded much better, etc. It probably won’t be much good for scientific, quantitative data. However I was looking more for a better, qualitative, idea of how back-country skiers go about avoiding avalanches, and what their opinions are. For that, I think it gave me a ton of great info. The comments people made were particularly helpful. (except for the part that there are over 700 of them, a bit tedious!)

    I’ll get the responses up here soon.



  19. d June 6th, 2012 8:15 am

    Just came across this in a previous comment and it requires correction:

    Louie wrote:

    “From their websites the time requirements for AST and AIARE are:
    AST level 1: 1 day
    AST level 2: 3 days”

    The Canadian AST Level 1 requires 2 days to teach, and many providers use 2.5 days to complete it. There is no way it is a 1-day course. Impossible.

    The AST Level 2 takes 5 days. Same providers try to squash it into 4 days, some like to use 6 days.

    I only offered this correction as this is a widely read blog.

  20. Lou June 6th, 2012 8:42 am

    d, thanks, corrections always appreciated. I think Louie is going to get those results up here, school delayed the process…

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