Item: Decision-making as a function of avalanche accident prevention
Title: Decision-making as a function of avalanche accident prevention
Proceedings: Proceedings of the 1980 International Snow Science Workshop, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Authors: Douglas S. Fesler, State of Alaska, Div. of Parks, Anchorge, Alaska
Abstract: During the decade of the 1970's, 17 fatal avalanche-accidents, resulting in 24 deaths, occurred in Alaska. An investigation of these accidents revealed that 92% of these fatalities were back country recreationists, that 80% of the victims triggered the avalanche which buried them, and that the average length of burial time for a person caught, killed, and recovered from an avalanche in Alaska was 140 days. In fact, 58% of the victims were buried longer than two months before recovery. Interestingly enough, men outnumbered women as victims by a ratio of 12 to 1 and the average age of the typical back country victim was 28 years old (Fesler, 1980). A review of why these accidents happened seems to point repeatedly toward three broad reasons: (1) poor route selection; (2) inexperience in hazard recognition; and (3) inexperience in hazard evaluation. Data from other avalanche accidents in North America support these conclusions. Perhaps the real question is not "why do avalanche accidents happen?", but "why do back country recreationists let them happen?" Obviously, the reasons are many, and it would be beyond the scope of this paper to attempt to explore them all. But one aspect deserves attention: the process of choosing a safe route. This paper is about decision-making as it relates to travel through avalanche terrain. A clearer understanding of the overall problem of back country safety can be gained by focusing on this important and often neglected subject.
Keywords: fatalities, avalanche accidents, accident prevention, avalanche victims
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