Reflecting on Risk

As AvalancheGeeks looks to wrap up our avalanche courses for the season, and the persistent weak layers within the alpine appear to be entering a dormant stage (those deeply buried avalanche dragons now lurking in the basement will appear again later in the season, be sure of that), perhaps now is a good time for reflection on what we’ve delivered on our courses and its value, after all, without reflection, there can be no improvement.

Reflection indeed, as this season the Alps have gone through a cycle of human triggered avalanches that has been brutal. So many fatalities, coming so fast one after another that I have literary lost count. At the time of writing in mid February we are beyond 50 avalanche related deaths in the Alps. 50 lives cut short, 50 families ripped apart. If we consider that 90% of all avalanches are triggered by those involved, then that’s a lot of avoidable loss and pain.

AvalancheGeeks is in the risk mitigation business. We’re most certainly not about waving the red flag of danger every time the avalanche forecast hits Considerable, but by teaching our students to observe the snow on the ground and how it relates to terrain they hopefully recognise and understand the snow dragon they face on that particular day. With that fundamental knowledge in place, the rest is down to us as to how we interact with the snow, the choices we make and in so doing the risk we are willing to accept.

Which leads us onto Human factors. Our behavior in the mountains has become an ever increasing part of the education that we deliver at AvalancheGeeks, as it becomes recognised within the avalanche education community that it is poor decision making that invariably cause avalanche incidents, not the ‘bad luck’ that the media would have the uneducated masses believe. This season it has been refreshing when running courses for professionals from the Assoc. Of Mountain Instructors (AMI), and the staff of the national training centre of Glenmore Lodge, and indeed keen recreationists on our Level 1 courses, that most students now arrive knowing the fundamentals of these heuristic traps.

But for me, its more than that – it’s about firstly understanding our personal risk acceptance when placed up against the avalanche hazard. On any given day the avalanche hazard will be constant, but our risk is variable. If on a High avalanche hazard day we choose to stay inside the ski-lodge drinking cocoa, then our risk of being avalanched will be low. But how can we place the risk in the Risk vs Hazard equation unless we first stop to reflect what our risk acceptance is? Our risk is as individual as ourselves. Risk is a personal matter.

Even within ourselves our risk will vary and change over time. As we age and gain the responsibilities of children and partners our acceptance of risk changes when compared to the proud strutting apes of our youth. And of course experience plays a direct influence in our risk taking. Having felt the months of pain from multiple surgeries and fighting back to fitness following the reconstruction of a knee and tibia shattered into a jigsaw of bone, these days I’m much more liable to think twice before dropping into that prize 50 degree splitter chute.

So take a moment to reflect. What is your risk acceptance? It does not matter if it is much greater or much less than mine. But it does matter that you know what it is for yourself. I’d venture that of those 50 people lost this season that only a handful had reflected on it and were comfortable where it stood in their personal risk vs hazard equation that fateful day.

At Avalanche Geeks we are very proud to be working with Dynastar and have been riding the Cham 97HM and 107HM. This is true all mountain quiver. The skis have taken us all over the Alps lift accessed and skinning from the road. The 107’s were the ski of choice in Japan and we look forward to another three months of great turns this season.

P1040432

Choices, choices….

Mike Austin and Bruce Goodlad

Avalanche Geeks Feb 15.