Avalanche Survey — Results

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | July 2, 2012      

Thanks to everyone who took the avalanche survey I posted a while ago. More than 770 of you responded! I’m no statistician, and I learned a ton from making this survey (it was a college project). Some of the questions could have been worded better, but I didn’t change them after people began filling it out, so as to not skew the results.

The survey confirmed a lot of the things I’ve always assumed about the backcountry skiing community, and also gave unique insights I used for a prototype idea that involved taking the first step in “research driven design.” Click on the thumbnails to view the results, apologies in advance if our image enlarger doesn’t work for you (it works for nearly every browser/computer combination, but sometimes folks have problems with it.) We had to keep the results as jpeg screen shots since converting them to HTML tables that fit our blog design would have been a monumental task.

Question one: How would you describe your experience level? (Multiple answers can be selected, i.e. if you are a guide with level 3 AIARE). Rate either based on experience, course level, or both (i.e. if you have many years of experience, but no formal courses, you could choose expert)

This question is the main one that could have been worded much better. The results might have been skewed toward the third option because many backcountry skiers have little to no “official” avy education, even if they have a wealth of experience.

Backcountry skiing avalanche survey

Question two: What tools do you normally carry (and actually use) for avalanche safety? Check all that apply.

Backcountry skiing avalanche survey

Question three: How often do you do the following for pre-trip planning?

Backcountry skiing avalanche survey

Question four: What avalanche mitigation/evaluation techniques do you use? How often?

Backcountry skiing avalanche survey

Question five: How often do you ski one at a time?

Backcountry skiing avalanche survey

Question six: During a day in avalanche terrain, what information is the most important to you? Drag and drop to rate according to importance.

The results for this question are hard to interpret. Also, the results might have been skewed since the method for answering this question was hard to understand. As far as I can tell, the simplified results are below, rated from most to least important, I could be interpreting it completely wrong, and the results might not actually mean anything. Question 7 perhaps does a better job of gathering this sort of information.

1. Slope angle
2. Nearby avalanche activity
3. Wind direction speed/history
4. Snow accumulation history
5. Snowpack layer bonding
6. Solar radiation history
7. Snowpack layer hardness
8. Snowpack layer density
9. Snowpack layer thickness
10. Snowpack layer temperature
11. Snow depth
12. Partners risk acceptance level
13. Slope history

Backcountry skiing avalanche survey

Question seven: If you could have better quality (i.e. quicker, more accurate, more often) of any kind of avalanche safety related data, what would it be?

Backcountry skiing avalanche survey

In summary:
It was encouraging to see how many people still skied one-at-a-time, despite the seeming trend (gleaned from observing accidents worldwide) against this most basic principle of safety.

You might also notice that of the many techniques used to evaluate hazard, that of examining snow layers is ever popular in backcountry skiing. But methods of observing snow layers are either primitive (ski pole probe), or time consuming (pit profiles). While all areas of avalanche safety are open for improvement, in my view the survey shows that new gear or techniques for evaluating snow layering could be of top importance.

As we’ve previously written about here on WildSnow.com, perhaps the days of avalanche beacons being viewed as the ultimate mojo of avalanche survival are behind us, and new safety devices are on the horizon? The growing popularity of airbag backpacks testifies, but how about gear that helps keep you out of avalanches in the first place?


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9 Responses to “Avalanche Survey — Results”

  1. Rick July 2nd, 2012 12:49 pm

    Cool survey Louie with some thought provoking results!! Have you considered sharing some of this info at the ISSW or publish in TAR??

  2. Scott Davenport July 2nd, 2012 2:00 pm

    Filling out the questionnaire was interesting. I have been in one avalanche in bounds after season a few years back. It is good to go through especially when you come out the other side safe. It made me more cautious visually – the signs were there I didn’t know what to look for at the time. Thanks for the input.

  3. Ryan July 2nd, 2012 2:01 pm

    Very cool results. I’ve been looking forward to this.

    One suggestion though…

    For the questions where we (the respondents) could select more than one answer, you should change the percentages so that they reflect the number of people who responded positively to that option out of the number of people who completed that question. When you add the percentages up, they will probably exceed 100%. My guess is that more that 17% of respondents carry a shovel into the backcountry.

  4. Dave P. July 2nd, 2012 2:52 pm

    Lou, could you please clarify the results of question 2? Is it really true, as it appears from the graphic, that fewer than 20% of respondents carry a shovel, probe and beacon into the backcountry. If so, that is shocking!

  5. Louie July 2nd, 2012 4:49 pm

    The survey software I used has a few issues. It wasn’t able to interpret question number two very well, since people could choose more than one option. The percentages don’t mean much, if anything. The numbers, however, do, they denote how many people chose which option. i.e. 817 people (all the respondents) said they carried a shovel. Sorry for the confusion, might be good if I just cropped the confusing numbers off the side of the image…

  6. David B July 2nd, 2012 5:48 pm

    Louie, could you please invent a probe that provides a layer reading when inserted into the snowpack. We could possibly receive the reading via a smartphone or high tech tranceiver.
    The time and effort required to thoroughly assess the snowpack is generally the prohibiting factor in doing so.
    Make it simple and more people will take the time to do the assessment properly or at all.

  7. Forest July 3rd, 2012 7:03 am

    Hmmm, must be some way to glean some useful layer strength information from a (~3″) core sample??

  8. Jim July 4th, 2012 12:51 am

    Louie, You should use the percentage of the people answering the question for each category. Not sue what the percentage is, but it looks like percent of all the possible answers.

  9. Ian July 13th, 2012 6:00 pm

    It might sound a bit Space 1999ish (think pommy Star Trek) but I reckon a radar type contraption that could scan the snow in front of you as you skin up. Then when you’re at the top it could scan the whole slope and detect hot spots to keep away from.
    At the end of the day no matter how elaborate the device people will still die because our brains aren’t honest. That’s something we all have to work on. Some more than others.

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