Item: Differences between avalanche experts and novices
Title: Differences between avalanche experts and novices
Proceedings: Proceedings of the 2004 International Snow Science Workshop, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Authors: Dale Atkins and Ian McCammon, Colorado Avalanche Information Center, Boulder, Colorado, National Outdoor Leadership School, Lander, Wyoming
Abstract: Differences between avalanche experts and novices have long been cited as a key issue in designing effective avalanche education, yet few investigations have quantitatively explored these differences. In this study, we examine how self-reported training, knowledge, skills, and behavior differ between avalanche experts and novices. From 2002 to 2004, we surveyed 300 avalanche professionals and winter recreationists regarding their demographics, risk taking, experience, training, involvement in avalanches, knowledge of someone killed, seeking feedback about stable and unstable conditions, reviewing of prior frequency of carrying rescue gear, use of avalanche bulletins, and ranking of signs of instability and stability. We received 161 responses, and found numerous differences between avalanche professionals and recreationists across varying levels of expertise. Surprising was the similarity in both groups’ ranking of signs of instability and stability, suggesting that recreationists and professionals had similar basic knowledge regarding avalanche hazard. Correlation analysis of rankings and rank variances suggests that much of the professional respondents’ learning took place through personal experience in avalanche terrain, whereas almost all of the learning by recreationists was the result of training. Recreationists’ apparent lack of success in learning through direct experience suggests a gap between their technical knowledge about avalanches and their ability to apply what they know. These results have important implications for recreational avalanche programs that intend to equip their students for making effective decisions in the backcountry.
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Keywords: expertise, expert, novice, avalanche education, training, experience, decision making
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