NZAD September 2021

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i hate surprises mike buotte

PHil couch a journey with search dogs

Avalanche modelling aubrey miller Proud Partners

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NZAd Featured Artist

g i e w z n Nia Wei

Photo: Rob Frost

Nia Weinzweig grew up in Wales and studied veterinary science in Scotland before traveling the world and ending up in New Zealand in 2016. A qualified veterinarian, Nia is also an avid alpinist, skier and rock climber. When not studying towards an Ecology MSc at the University of Otago, Nia spends a lot of time in the hills and in the snow. The NZAD saw Nia’s amazing artwork on Instagram and managed to catch up with her between traveling and studying: How many days a year do you spend on snow? Around 30 in one way or another. What do you do for work or to make a living? I’ve previously worked as a veterinarian but have escaped the confines of a clinic to study Ecology, work as a conservation field technician, and develop my illustration work. How long have you been in the outdoor/snow industry? I’ve dabbled in the outdoor industry since 2014, training as a mountain leader in the UK, followed more recently by a season as a chalet host in France, and a winter in Aoraki Mount Cook. How did you get interested in artwork? I enjoyed art at school but set it aside for my veterinary career until I was challenged by my family to fill a sketchbook while working on Campbell Island two summers ago. What medium do you commonly work with? I mostly use pencil and ink on paper and I’m experimenting with watercolour pencils to add splashes of colour. Where have you traveled? Norway, France, Switzerland, Greece, Spain, Ecuador, Morocco, Egypt, Nepal, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Borneo, Australia, NZ. How has travel influenced your artwork? I have enjoyed adventures in all sorts of places on my travels, and I enjoy bringing those memories to life through my drawings. It’s also been a great way to use photographs taken with my old cheap camera that have great content but are lacking in quality. What makes a good subject for your artwork? I enjoy drawing scenes with interesting textures and contrast in the landscape. Including man-made structures or people provides


context to the scene and opportunities to experiment with splashes of colour. The people also add a sense of scale, which helps convey the awe a person may feel in that place. How much time do you spend on a given piece? Anything up to eight hours, I often completely lose track of time! How do you know when you are “done” with a drawing? A drawing is finished when it feels right, when it feels like all of the image from my mind is on the paper. What is the most difficult part of your process? Lately, it has been finding time and space to work within my nomadic lifestyle, but I’m currently on the lookout for a desk and have somewhere to put it! What inspires you in your artwork? The feeling of being in an incredible place, reached by your own skill and energy, with good friends, wildlife, or your own thoughts for company. What’s the next step for your artwork? I’d like to continue to develop my work for myself, and to take on commissions for people who want their adventures preserved in a unique way. Where do you see your artwork going? My dream is to be an expedition artist, recording adventures and exploration around the world. Where can people find more of your artwork? My website is: and I am on Instagram: @nia_on_th_neve or email me at

Dun Fiunary Summit Rocks A great Canterbury Mountaineering Club Trip to climb Dun Fiunary in the Ben Ohau Range last winter. I was less than enthusiastic about crawling out of my sleeping bag when woken at 4am by surprise spindrift. Thankfully, as sun rose, the wind dropped and the clouds cleared, and the miserable early start was forgotten.. 5

Rolleston Rome Ridge

In winter 2019, my climbing buddy and I made the most of a weekday weather window to climb Rome Ridge in glorious conditions, breaking a fresh trail to Rolleston’s Low Peak in time for summit tea and soup in the windless blue sky. This is me just above “the gap”, climbing up to gain the summit ridge.. 6



Admiring Aoraki My first visit to Plateau Hut was in 2016 for a glacier skiing course. I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have spent time in several of New Zealand’s alpine huts, and I don’t think the novelty will ever wear off.


Spring Skiing at Camp Stream Hut This was during a spring ski trip to the Two Thumbs range a few years ago, where we walked in to Camp Stream Hut to enjoy some spring snow, and lolly and camembert trading around the fire with some other keen beans! 10

Helbergehytte This was the last hut on one of my favourite mountain trips, a cross country ski journey with my father and brother, traversing the Hardangervidda Plateau in the Telemark region of Norway. 11

Glacier de Gebroulaz Skiers I spent the winter of 2018-19 working as a chalet host in Courchevel in the French Alps. Known more for it’s bars and endless pistes there are endless touring opportunities in the area for the more adventurous! This was a great day out, skiing from Val Thorens to Meribel via three glaciers, the highlight being a descent of the vast Glacier de Gebroulaz. 12


Khumbu Yak Train These yaks were ferrying loads to Everest Base Camp on my first visit to Nepal in April 2013, I really enjoyed revisiting these memories and creating something new from a fuzzy old photograph..

September 2021 Advertiser Directory Girsberger Mtn Technology Page 02 Outfitters / Rab

Page 03

Southern Approach / BD

Page 07

Further Faster

Page 15

Altitude Brewing

Page 20

Ski Industries / mnd safety page 24 ski and board surgery

page 27

sportive / bca

page 29

nz mtn guides association

page 41

aerosize avalanche vests

page 44


page 49

1964 magazine

page 68

forest lodge / cheeseman

page 75


page 86

Thank you to our generous supporters!

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In this Issue Features




I Hate Surprises

Avalanche Modelling on the Milford Road

The Five Step Method

The Risk of Ski Cutting

Modelling software is allowing forecasters to get a better idea of potential avalanche risk.

Communication is the backbone of any organisation and this method can help.

It is an accepted part of most avalanche mitigation work but how risky is it?

The last thing you want on your day off is a call from the office.



50 34 Mountain Safety Collective

Pre-Traumatic Stress Management

Australia has snow? Yes it does and where there is snow there are avalanches and a new avalanche and alpine hazard advisory.

Stress is common in the workplace. Is there a way to preempt stress before it becomes too much?



66 84 Concussion News

Risk Resilience

Bang Your Head! No wait...don't do that, but if you do, here is what you need to know.

Determining a better way to resolve risk in an operational context.

26 04


64 91



AvaLife Rescue System

61 25

Satellite Mapping

Climate research, warmest winter, meeting.

Featured Alpine Artist Nia Weinzweig shares some of her beautiful alpine artwork.


Phil Couch A Journey with Avalanche Search Dogs

A helicopter remote triggered avalanche in the Harris Mtns.

Hangfire Data is freedom.

A well designed avalanche rescue system.

Research projects from the US and NZ.

Mountain Safety Council Tom Harris updates us on the NZMSC.



"It’s unrealistic to watch people you’ve skied with, that you’re responsible for, that you’ve partnered with, injured and killed doing exactly what you love to do and not be affected by it."


NZAD September 2021 best when paired with:





Feature Contributors

Bruce Jamieson started hauling toboggans and working on the avalanche forecasting and control team at the Fernie ski area in 1980. After six winters with two ski areas, he started graduate studies at the University of Calgary, focusing on field studies of avalanches including snowpack tests. As a professor from 1997 to 2015 and research chair, Bruce managed field studies of snow and avalanches. Now, when not sliding on snow or riding a two-wheeler on dirt trails, he works as an avalanche consultant and educator.

Mike Buotte is the Snow Safety Director for Big Sky Ski and Summer Resort. He first donned the red coat and cross at Big Sky during the Lone Peak Tram expansion in the mid-90s and took on the Snow Safety Director position in the mid-2000s. When not slaying dragons or herding cats on Lone Peak he can be found crushing uphill ascents on his mountain bike or stalking elk during hunting season.

Mikkel Frederiksen has been involved with different Arctic organizations managing risk, safety, and business continuity. He has researched Search and Rescue operations in the Arctic as well as organizational resilience. By early 2021 he finished his bachelor’s degree with a thesis regarding the use of a resilience-based risk assessment in the Arctic, which became the offset for his featured article.


Starr Jamison started exploring the Gunnison County, Colorado backcountry after graduating from Western State College in Gunnison. With seven years of backcountry skiing under her belt, Starr lost 3 friends to avalanches and was hit by a car while bike touring all in a in a 12-month time span. Because of these experiences she created Survivors of Outdoor Adventures and Recovery and multiple social media sites with information and resources for those involved in adventure accidents.

Anna Smith is a student at the University of Otago. Last year she completed a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Geography, and she is now completing her honours year. Anna's honours project focusses on avalanche dynamics in the Hooker Valley of Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park. Originally from the Wairarapa region, Anna got her love of the outdoors from tramping in the Tararua ranges.

Aubrey Miller teaches and conducts research in geospatial science at the University of Otago National School of Surveying. His interests and background are in GIS, natural hazards and outdoor recreation. Prior to relocating to Dunedin, he worked for the US Forest Service in Colorado, USA doing recreation planning and management. Aubrey is currently working on a PhD that blends his interests in snow avalanches and geospatial modelling to prepare for extreme events in New Zealand.

Khan Coleman is currently working in the patrol and snow safety operations at Whakapapa Ski Area on Mt Ruapehu. In past summers he has worked as a Glacier Guide, and on the Aoraki Mt Cook Alpine Rescue team.

Dr Robin Barraclough works as a doctor in general practice and rural hospital medicine here in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Although less active than he'd like to be, he still gets out climbing and mountain biking when time allows.

Simon Murray is the founder and Vice President of the Australian Mountain Safety Collective. He helped start the MSC in 2014 in the wake of a tragic avalanche accident in Australia. A lucky survivor of an avalanche accident himself, he is keenly aware that avalanches, among other hazards, are just as deadly in Australia as they are anywhere else in the world

Zachary Keskinen grew up in Fairbanks, AK. As a reformed mountain guide his academic interests focus on using satellites to provide tools and information to mountain professionals. He has worked as a lead guide on Denali and taught avalanche safety courses across the western US. After guiding he completed a master’s degree from the Snow and Avalanche Lab at Montana State University. He is currently a PhD student in Geophysics at Boise State University studying remote sensing techniques for snowpack characterization and avalanche detection.



Kia Ora Everyone!

Cover Shots

Welcome to the September Issue of the NZAD. This is our fourth issue in total and our final issue of the 2021 season...and what a season it has been! Initially we were plagued by resilient, dry La Nina conditions (see: v=H0-pHnykC9s) Once the skiing and riding got good Covid-19 Level 4 lockdown restrictions kept us all away! Total suck-fest! However, as a community we have all pulled together, we've kept safe and locked-down and, at least at the time of this writing, most ski areas are able to start opening their doors again. We started the NZAD in February 2020 creating most of the inaugural issue during the first Covid-19 lockdown. Since that time we have been evolving and adapting steadily. We have streamlined our layout and upgraded our outreach options. We now have free PDF's of all of the issues available on ISSUU and we have started printing high quality paper versions of the magazine. A huge thank you goes out to all of the folks that purchased a paper copy of the June 2021 Issue! We were also able to make free print copies of the June 2021 issue available to as many NZ ski patrols as we could and we hope to do the same with the September 2021 Issue. It is important to note: We do not operate for a profit. Every dollar we receive from our supporters goes into covering our outreach and production costs. The September 2021 Issue is geared slightly towards our professional snow and avalanche safety workers here in NZ, but we think there is something interesting for everyone else as well. We start off with Mike Buotte and a scenario that no snow safety officer ever wants to hear. Next, Tom Harris updates us on the happenings at the NZ Mountain Safety Council. Next up Dr. Robin Barraclough shares AvaLife avalanche rescue training protocols and Starr Jamison introduces us to the concept of pre-stress management. Khan Coleman shares an excellent avalanche terrain briefing method and Aubrey Miller has a fascinating look at avalanche modelling along the Milford Road. We then feature Chris Cochrane, NZAA forecaster for the Queenstown region. Our new featured forecast centre series introduces the Mountain Safety Collective, a new avalanche and alpine safety initiative in Australia. Next up is a fantastic account by Phil Couch about his journey of being a long-time avalanche search dog handler in NZ. After that, Dr. Robin Barraclough speaks again, this time to the new science around concussion treatment and Marcus Wurgler shares some information on Girsberger avalanche rescue technology. Bruce Jamieson shares the results of his study into the risk of ski cutting for professionals and Mikkel Frederickson presents his work on a resilience based risk assessment system. Finally we finish with a new guest-opinion column we call Hangfire.

We are about to hang up our hats for the season but we will still be posting updates and news on our social media pages the next few months. Stay in touch, stay safe and we'll see you next June! Kia Kaha!

Avalanche Area Ends

Eugenie Descent

A jolly up the Tasman Valley to see the changes from a storm event was a great place to try out my new bike last year. - Nia Weinzweig

Climbing the Footstool in Aoraki National Park had been an ambition for a while, so after summiting at sunrise one day last spring, it was worth taking a moment to appreciate where we were and what we’d achieved. - Nia Weinzweig

Contact and Advertising

Managing Editor Brad Carpenter

Editor Caitlin Hall

Dog Rosko

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Correction! We mistakenly reported only three avalanche related deaths in Russia in the June Issue of the NZAD (see NZAD 3 page 40-41) . We were contacted by Grigory Mintsev, Technical Director for the Russian Avalanche Centre (RAC). The recently formed RAC has began collecting data on avalanche fatalities in Russia and Grigory told us that there were in fact thirteen avalanche related deaths in Russia last winter season. We apologised for our mistake, and then we got to thinking: How many avalanche centres are there in the world? And why not feature one in each issue of the NZAD? So by Georgi that's what we're going to do! This issue features the Mountain Safety Collective in Australia, and the Russian Avalanche Centre will be featured in the June 2022 issue. From lemons comes lemonade!

The New Zealand Avalanche Dispatch is published twice a winter season in New Zealand. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior permission from the publisher. Opinions expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of the publisher or the editor. Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information in this publication, however the publisher assumes no responsibility for errors, omissions or consequences in reliance on this publication.


I Hate Suprises By Mike Buotte This article first appeared in The Avalanche Review Vol. 39.1

Surprises are not generally welcome during the dark months of winter for Snow Safety Directors. Neither are mid-day texts from the on-duty Assistant Snow Safety Director while I’m at home on a day off; it’s rarely comforting news. Especially when the first word of the text is “Surprise!” The Marx avalanche path at Big Sky Resort had avalanched as a persistent slab, D3, during mitigation work on December 9th. A 4lb. shot on a stick. I was surprised.

THE SETUP: We knew that we had a potentially unstable structure; an October of 196% of average snowfall is good for hunting, but usually makes for a long avalanche season. Of course, it stopped snowing in November, got warm, rained, and left us with a bomber basal crust on solar aspects that is still down there as I write this in April. Then it snowed a bit more, rained, and put a thinner crust over the snow sitting on the October snow crust. This trapped lower density layer faceted, and the die was cast for the winter on solar aspects in the alpine: faceted snow sitting on a perfect potential bed surface. What had me pacing around my kitchen in circles on December 9 was what (apparently) tipped the path into instability—a paltry .34” of SWE in the previous two days without significant wind loading. This had followed a week of mostly clear skies with one small 2” at 7% squall six days prior to the avalanche. Pit data showed mostly moderate scores with Q2 results. One pit had a Q1, and there were some ECTPs. We peppered the slope with 4lb. shots. We had opened the path to skiing two days previous on December 7 under an assumption of conditionally stable, due to lack of loading, pit data, and no explosives results. The path had been closed to public the day before the avalanche due to 4” of 8% leaving isolated stubborn slabs in places, but mostly due to a nagging early season uncertainty among the forecasters.

...being at the crown and looking at a fluffy 4” of 8% sitting on various pencil hard slabs stacked to 3’ deep painted a different picture. None of us called the load obviously significant. THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS: I cannot overstate the value of a team that has the courage to close terrain! We talk about keeping a safety margin with deep and persistent slab avalanches. One metric we use is “Was the path open the day before the avalanche?” If it was and there wasn’t a significant change to the mountain overnight and we get a result, it gives us reason to reassess our margins. While we made the cut on that metric, none of us in Snow Safety thought it likely that .34” of SWE without much wind loading was going to tip the pack over, and that gave us pause. It would have felt better if the load was significant, but being at the crown and looking at a fluffy 4” of 8% sitting on various pencil hard slabs stacked to 3’ deep painted a different picture. None of us called the load obviously significant. WHICH RAISED A QUESTION: Had the path gotten weaker, and more sensitive to triggering in the time since we last shot it, exposed to (mostly) clear skies and seasonal December temperatures? Was that possible? Would we have gotten the result if we had shot the path without the 4” of snow? (Why would we have shot it? It hadn’t snowed in days…) We know that snow can weaken over time (duh, right?), but get more sensitive over time? Was the weakening pronounced enough that sensitivity to triggering was increased? I have often made the argument that subtle changes in loading can be the difference between little to no persistent/deep slab activity and a full blown cycle, and I stand by that. (I have observed this mostly over prolonged but low/moderate precipitation storm cycles, where there is loading, we are expecting paths to fail, they don’t, we scratch our heads, then get a little more snow and little more wind and the cycle is on…) But subtle weakening tipping the scale?

SO, WHAT ARE MY OPERATIONAL TAKEAWAYS? After this avalanche, weakening and sensitivity is something I will at least consider going forward, especially during periods of “conditionally stable” where we expect to get avalanches once the path(s) load up… If the structure is poor, but there is no additional loading, we’ll consider some targeted test shooting during the interval between storms, especially if the interval is long and the temps are cold and the pack is thin. Even if it is not super cold, clear night skies can really drive gradients. Upon initial openings, we will blast more thoroughly, which we do anyway—we are a noisy patrol in December and January, for sure. We’ll never know if we had tried harder if we would have gotten the result earlier in the week before the path opened. It oftentimes feels stupid to bash away at a path with explosives when it hasn’t snowed in five days. In alpine paths with poor structure and thin packs I’ll take feeling stupid and a bunch of holes in the snow over walking around in circles in the kitchen hating surprises.


AND FINALLY, ANOTHER CAUTIONARY TALE: After walking around in circles in the kitchen I did the obvious thing to ease my mind —I got in the car, drove up to the resort, put on my uniform and went and looked at the thing. The avalanche had taken the bottom 2/3 of the path leaving the top part hanging, which is typical of the Marx path. I was with two other patrollers going to look at the slide and we were in the top of the path, and were thinking that the top part was probably stable that day; after all, it would have gone with the bottom half a few hours ago if it wanted to go, right? After a brief discussion of travel protocol, I tapped the brakes and decided we would travel one at a time, and asked a fourth patroller who was looking at the crown to move off before we dropped. All good. The next day the top half where we were standing came down with a 2lb. shot after a trace of snow overnight. It’s good to get surprised. It keeps us honest, keeps us humble, and has a tendency to re-focus on protocols, safety, and honoring uncertainty. I still hate surprises, though. Thanks to Don Sharaf, Kelly Elder and Andy Lapkass for considering the “increased sensitivity over time due to weakening” possibility when I threw it out to Don who then passed it on last December. No one is saying “Yeah, this happens for sure.” But plausible? Maybe so…I hadn’t thought much about it before.



Director of the U.S Forest Service National Avalanche Center In some of the work I did with Chris Landry and then later with Erich Lutz, Spencer Logan, and Kalle Kronholm, we attempted to look at changes in spatial variability over time (Birkeland and Landry, 2002). Two things to remember when referring back to this research: 1) It was largely conceptual because we found it so challenging to collect good data on temporal changes in spatial variability, and 2) We hypothesized—based on some work in other fields—that the spatial variability would increase as the snow strengthened (in other words, the difference between the weakest snow and the strongest snow would get larger). While some of our work supported this idea and its implications (e.g., Kronholm and Birkeland, 2005; Logan, 2005; Logan et al., 2007; Lutz, 2009), the field evidence was not definitive. What does this mean for triggering due to weakening? I’m not sure. I like the way Mike puts it in his article…that it would not be something he would emphasize in his decision-making, but that it might be a small factor that he would consider. My own guess is that the weakening of the snowpack is likely a very minor player in this whole scenario or what we’d call a 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) order effect. If we think of things in terms of how the snow fractures, then the ease of triggering is inversely proportional to load (more load = easier to trigger), and directly proportional to both slab stiffness (less stiff slab = easier to trigger) and weak layer specific fracture energy (weaker weak layer = easier to trigger) (Schweizer et al., 2016). In this case the load increased (but not by much!), the slab stiffness was probably very nearly the same, and the weak layer might (??) have gotten just a tiny bit weaker. If I had to guess—and it would only be a guess—what happened in the Big Sky avalanche that Mike writes about, I’d say that the 4 pounds on a stick was in just the right spot to trigger the avalanche. It sounds like the slope had been thoroughly controlled with explosives already, but maybe this particular shot was simply “the right charge in the right place at the right time”, as Norm Wilson used to say. And, maybe that four inches of snow added just enough sensitivity to the pack that when the right airblast was put in the right spot the slope released. Hearing that all that hangfire released with just a 2pounder in the snow was certainly surprising to me. Like Mike, I would definitely have expected that to go with the first avalanche. But, for some reason this was also the right shot in the right place at the right time! These are just my quick thoughts. A big thanks to Mike for a solid and thought-provoking article.

I read Karl’s response—a good review of his research. I still don’t know exactly what to think. I’m certain that there had been shots very close to where we subsequently triggered the path—it is the known “sweet spot” and is a go-to placement when we are gunning for the path. And we were gunning for it earlier in the week before we opened. I’ve been trying to think about it from the point of view of a forecaster who is not familiar with Big Sky, and an easy conclusion might be that we simply underestimated the amount of load in the path. It was paltry at the crown, but was there more down in the gut that slid to the bottom? Maybe, but no one in Snow Safety felt like this was an expected result on that day. It caught us all off guard, and set a tone for the season— it was tricky to forecast what was going to break and when, and that unease and paranoia stayed with us all season long. It pretty much sucked for decision-makers —this is the only season I have ever wondered if we were actually BEING careful when we were trying hard to be careful and conservative.

RESOURCES Birkeland, K.W. and C.C. Landry, 2002. Changes in spatial patterns of snow stability through time. Proceedings of the 2002 International Snow Science Workshop, Penticton, BC. Kronholm, K. and K.W. Birkeland, 2005. Integrating spatial patterns into a snow avalanche cellular automata model. Geophysical Research Letters 32(L19504), doi: 10.1029/2005GL024373. Logan, S., 2005. Temporal changes in the spatial patterns of weak layer shear strength and stability on uniform slopes. MS Thesis, Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, Bozeman, 169 pp. Logan, S., Birkeland, K.W., Kronholm, K. and Hansen, K., 2007. Temporal changes in the slope-scale spatial variability of shear strength of buried surface hoar layers. Cold Regions Science and Technology 47, 148-158. Lutz, E., 2009. Spatial and temporal analysis of snowpack strength and stability and environmental determinants on an inclined, forest opening. PhD Dissertation, Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana, 360 pp. Schweizer, J., B. Reuter, A. van Herwijnen, B Richter, and J. Gaume, 2016. Temporal evolution of crack propagation propensity in snow in relation to slab and weak layer properties. The Cryosphere 10, 2637-2653


Mountain Safety Council Winter Update By Tom Harris NZMSC Alpine Partnerships Advisor Fair to say we are all bummed on how the second half of August went! On a positive note, it looks like the snowpack across the country is well setup for a strong spring when we can eventually leave lockdown and get back into the backcountry, to our ski areas, heli-skiing and other guiding. Lockdown caused a big shift in our work at MSC as we adapted to the restrictions, like I’m sure was the case for pretty much everyone. But fortunately, most of our long-term projects are still on track. Wishing everyone a great spring once we can enjoy it! Happy reading.

NZAA and latest COVID-19 situation In response to Level 4 lockdown across the country, MSC made the decision to temporarily stop avalanche forecasting for all our New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) forecast regions. It’s not a decision that we enjoyed making, but one that was required given the circumstances. This decision was made because: We did not want to encourage backcountry recreation, which was prohibited; We had no field data coming into InfoEx from operators such as ski areas, heli-ski companies, guiding companies etc. Pretty much all we had was weather station data, and We had no ability to source field data ourselves for the time being. With Level 3 still not allowing “activities that may expose the participant to danger or may require search and rescue services”, the decision was clear that backcountry snow sports were still off the table. So, we have decided not to begin forecasting again until Level 2. Hopefully by the time you’re reading this we aren’t too far off that point!

SHAC 2021 Recordings Most of the presentations at SHAC were recorded (thanks to Pete Oswald for the help on this), and these are publicly available to view now. So, if you missed SHAC, or know others who couldn’t make it, or saw a presentation that you think your friends or co-workers would enjoy, this is a great way to get filled in on what happened in Wanaka. You can find the recordings under ‘Playlists’ on the NZ Mountain Safety Council YouTube Channel, or use the below link: v=GMc0duvB138&list=PLeLnlpLtcbKpOTYChLZjzoJ-OgkesJcwd

Public Observations 2021 Our NZAA Public Observations competition has been cranking along this winter. We are still running the prize giving, with three different categories of prizes: Grand Prizes – Random public observations will be drawn from the whole season (June-October) to win two awesome prizes: a Black Diamond JetForce Avalanche Pack from Southern Approach and a custom set of skis from Kingswood Skis! Monthly Prizes – A random public observation will be drawn from each month to win great Black Diamond prizes from Southern Approach. High-Fives – Selected observations that nail the brief will win a pair of Black Diamond gloves throughout the season.

To be eligible to win, public observations must be submitted WITH A PHOTO. For more info, check out .

So, keep submitting public observations at once we are out of lockdown - there’s still two months of the competition to go. Most importantly, submitting observations helps to inform your fellow backcountry users. The fact that you could win some awesome backcountry gear is just icing on the cake!

Research: Avalanche Culture within the NZ Mountaineering Community MSC, along with Research NZ and with the support of the NZMGA, NZOIA and NZ Alpine Club, has completed initial stages of a research project that seeks to develop a clear understanding relating to the ‘attitude and behaviour of the New Zealand mountaineering community towards avalanche dangers and avalanche safety’. This research, alongside statistical evidence, will be used to form the basis of improved avalanche prevention in New Zealand, specifically targeting mountaineers and alpine climbers. Interviews with our reference panel, avalanche survivors, and climbers who have not been in an avalanche have been completed. These interviews will not be included in the findings of the research but will instead inform and shape the survey that will go out to the wider mountaineering and alpine climbing community here in New Zealand. Stay tuned for the survey when it goes out this spring! If you climb in avalanche terrain, will in the future, or have in the past, then your participation will be crucial!

MSC Avalanche Education Course Material Review MSC is conducting a regular review and update of our education resources for Avalanche Awareness and Backcountry Avalanche course providers, as we typically do every few years. This work will aim to: Bring the terminology and imagery in the resources up to date based on changes to industry standards and changes made to Review existing PowerPoints as well as instructor and student workbooks and adjust as needed. Explore, and likely incorporate, a component to the Backcountry Avalanche course material around the concept of “Strategic Mindset”. Additionally, once MSC’s Research ‘Avalanche Culture within the NZ Mountaineering Community’ is complete, we will assess options around incorporating additional content for climbers into the course material. Note: This review will not cover MSC’s physical resource packs for Education Providers (Avalanche Assessor cards, certificates and Avalanche Awareness books). These resource packs will remain the same for next winter, so if you have extra physical resources on hand, don’t worry, these will be of use next year too.

Avalanche Incidents in NZ Story Map MSC has finished the analysis of avalanche incidents from 1999-2018 and has released the insights using ArcGIS Story Maps. This platform allows the data to be viewed in a more natural fashion and allows us to refresh the insights over time as we receive updated data. You can find this at: Of note is that this is quite nice to browse through on mobile devices compared to most data heavy pages, so don’t be afraid to get into it on your phone.


NIWA seeks help from skiers and snow bunnies Hydrologist Dr Alice Hill is launching the Aotearoa Snow Isotope Project introduced at the Southern Hemisphere Alpine Conference in Wanaka. She is seeking the help of anyone who spends time in the alpine environment to collect a snow sample and send it to her for chemical isotope analysis. “We’re asking patrollers, ski field staff, climbers, or avid skiers out for the day to collect a small snow sample. Data on snow is very limited in New Zealand so any citizen science samples we get from this project will provide important information,” Dr Hill said. The winter snow season is her immediate data collection focus, but snow samples collected year-round will be valuable contributions to the data set. The goal of the research is to determine the amount of meltwater making its way into rivers and groundwater and how that may change over time. This is particularly important in a changing climate which may affect future supply. “Snow is sensitive to rising temperatures and many industries, such as hydropower and agriculture, depend on snowmelt for their livelihoods so we need to know what to expect in the future.”

NIWA hydrologist Dr. Alice Hill testing snow meltwater.

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In addition, Australian bushfires in recent years have resulted in ash deposits on New Zealand snowfields which Dr Hill says has a profound impact on the timing and rate of the melt. “Climate change and human-induced activities are changing how much snow there is, when and how fast it melts. This means our downstream water resources that are partially sourced from snowmelt, like rivers and groundwater, may not look the same in the future. This has implications for the way that regional councils manage water takes, and for individual users like farmers who need some certainty around how much water they’ll have access to, and when.” Isotope analysis of both snow and water downstream can tell scientists where the water came from, and is used to calculate how much snow melt is in the river.

Canterbury is the initial focus for the research and Dr Hill is targeting specific snowfields such as Temple Basin, Mt. Hutt, Broken River, and Craigieburn to help generate a weekly time series. However, snow samples are also sought from citizen scientists all over the South Island to help build the database. “We need to get a wide spatial collection of isotope samples so we can improve our New Zealand-wide model which will make it more useful for understanding the role that snow plays across the country.” Collecting samples is an easy process. Dr Hill has sampling packs available to send out that contain all the instructions as well as a set of tubes, marker pen and pre-paid courier bag to send back to Dr Hill. A small amount of fresh surface snow needs to be scooped into the tube and some details of time and place recorded. Dr Hill has sampling packs available. If you are willing to help you can contact her at and she will send you the sampling supplies.


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2021 Warmest winter on record By Ben Noll NIWA Meteorologist It’s official – NIWA’s official climate data shows winter 2021 was Aotearoa New Zealand’s warmest on record. And NIWA meteorologist Ben Noll says spring is shaping up as a warm one too. Temperatures during June to August were 1.32°C degrees above average. That was significantly higher than the previous record of 1.14°C above average - set just last year. Mr. Noll says a number of factors including warm seas, more northerly winds, high pressure and climate change were behind the record setting winter. He points out that NIWA’s “seven-station” temperature series which extends back to 1909, shows seven of the 10 warmest winters on record have occurred since 2000. The warm temperatures had an interesting impact on snow this season, with lower elevation sites (below 1400m) recording well below average snow depths at the end of winter, while higher elevation sites (above 1600m) were closer to average. NIWA hydrological forecaster Dr Jono Conway says sites north of Aoraki / Mt Cook generally had slightly above average snow depth while sites to the south were near or below average. “The warm temperatures have been causing precipitation to fall as rain at lower elevations, which makes it very difficult for ski fields with bases at lower elevations, particularly club fields with no snow making,” says Dr Conway. He says this is consistent with a noticeable trend in recent years toward a higher rain/snow zone.



Current Snow Depth (m)

Average Snow Depth (m)

Percent of Average Height of Snow

Albert Burn





Arthur's Pass





Castle Mount




Ivory Glacier










Aoraki / Mt. Cook





Mt. Larkins





Mt. Philistine





Mt. Potts





Mt. Ruapehu Chateau





Mueller Hut





Murchison Mtns.





Upper Rakaia






Continued from page 27 Meanwhile Mr Noll says, while spring will come with its typical ups and downs, the outlook from September to November looks to be warmer, with unseasonably warm days likely to outnumber the cold ones. One exception looks to be mid-to-late September, when a stretch of colder than average conditions looks likely. He says La Niña-like climate patterns look to be sitting in the background producing warmer than average coastal sea temperatures and westerly winds early in the season will most likely give way to more northeasterlies. Some vigorous fronts are likely during the first half of September in the western and interior South Island, driving high elevation snowfall but with less at lower elevations. “Generally speaking, it looks like more of the same types of weather patterns that we experienced over winter,” says Mr Noll. Ben Noll is a meteorologist with NIWA’s weather forecast team. Based in Auckland, Ben leads the team developing NIWA's Seasonal Climate Outlook, a monthly outlook which covers expected weather patterns for the three months ahead:

Annual Canterbury Winter Response Group meeting By Scott Walker The annual Canterbury Winter Response Group meeting took place on 23rd June in Sheffield. About 50 people were in attendance and it was a great chance to catch up with all of the Avalanche Rescue people in the Canterbury region. Key staff from SDC Civil Defence were there along with Police, Fire and St John's Ambulance. Methven Land SAR made the journey along with Ski Patrol staff from Mt Hutt and all of the Craigieburn Range Fields as well as from Temple Basin. Several Ski Area Managers and guides rounded off the attendees. Carter Spencer, Snow Safety at Mt. Cheeseman Ski Field made mention of ski clubs needing to be aware of the hazards on the fields without their Snow Safety Officer onsite and that volunteers/club members skiing would be considered to be under WorkSafe laws just as employees are. Dr. Malin Zachau introduced new hypothermia flowcharts and mentioned AvaLife Webinars [see Dr. Robin Barracloughs article this issue, Ed.]. Hamish Beer from NZ Police went over ‘Fatality Protocols’. Rick Knight From Westpac/Garden City Helicopters covered helicopter procedures and pitfalls to not get into. Jamie Robertson, from Mountain Safety Council (MSC) discussed the change to the danger rose on the MSC NZ Avalanche Advisory and mentioned that the MSC are interested in spending some funds next year to update the NZ Avalanche Advisory. He suggested If anyone has any suggestions on how the money should best be spent contact Tom Harris. All in all, it was great to get everyone together, put some names to faces and to get a better understanding of the process regarding the Canterbury WInter Response Group Plan. Everyone seemed to enjoy the great food and delicious beer form the Sheffield Hotel.


You Bet Your Life The AvaLife Avalanche Rescue Protocol Article By: Dr Robin Barraclough, RNZCGP, NZSFMM

Unless your James Bond casinos are a bit of a gamble. Successful gamblers, like Bond, have usually studied the odds or variables a great deal and so for them it's less of a gamble and more of a carefully calculated decision. It’s the same if you, or a loved one are unlucky enough to get buried in an avalanche. Having a good understanding of the variables helps those involved in a rescue use their time more effectively especially if one of those variables is multiple victims who, each in turn, have their own set of variables: Burial depth Length of burial An airway, or not The presence of trauma, or not The amount of CPR to deliver Thankfully, these parameters have been studied in great detail by some engineers and doctors in Europe using a sophisticated mathematical model. Named after the famous casino, Monte Carlo Simulation, as the model is known, calculates and optimises the chances of survival for those in a situation with large numbers of variables, such as avalanches. This model is the one behind the AvaLife avalanche protocol. It's intent is to help rescuers in situations with multiple victims work out how to optimise their efforts to save the greatest number of lives. While there have been similar protocols in the past (e.g. the ICAR Avalanche Victim Resuscitation Checklist) they have not had integrated efforts in the way that AvaLife does: multiple victims, who to dig out first and how long to spend resuscitating them.


The website is where, once registered, you can download the AvaLife protocol for free. The site was set up by the Swiss Engineer, Manuel Genswein who was instrumental in developing the AvaLife protocol that you see today. You will find that the protocol comes in a number of ‘levels’ according to the skill and training of those involved in the rescue: AvaLife Basic Life Support BLS): For simple & rapid ‘companion rescue’ by recreational skiers. AvaLife Advanced Basic Life Support (BLS +): For use by ski patrol / first responders. Has a greater focus on the duration of burial and the three principle problems affecting victims: asphyxia, hypothermia and trauma (see next page). AvaLife Advanced Life Support (ALS): For use by health professionals, which includes additional decision making involving the electrical activity of the victims heart and the biochemical status of the victims blood (potassium level).

Back in May 2021, at the Southern Hemisphere Alpine Conference in Wanaka, after an invitation from the Mountain Safety Council I delivered a workshop introducing AvaLife to many of those working in the snow sport industry. My focus was on how the medical aspects of AvaLife might look and work in practice. What follows below are some of the learning points I delivered at that workshop, including some of the scenarios that we worked through on the day. It is worth stating that AvaLife as well has memory aids to help rescuers remember the appropriate interventions during a rescue.

Each victim needs their own AvaLife card completed as soon as their head / chest are uncovered. The card needs to stay with the victim whether they end up in hospital or in the mortuary (as this might form a piece of coronial evidence). AvaLife is also a vital communication tool in the chain of survival allowing rescuers from different organisations and with different levels of training and experience to all “sing from the same hymn sheet”.

Search and Excavate Your search is obviously dependent on resources available and the size of the avalanche involved. Excavate / investigate victims or clues visible on the surface first. Then begin organised avalanche transceiver search: signal —> coarse —> fine etc. for the rest of the victims. For victims buried deeper than >1.5m, mark the spot and delay digging until other, shallower victims are excavated. For victims buried <1.5m, dig up first although exact digging strategy depends on the resources available.

Out Of Hospital Medical Management Working our way down the medical side of the AvaLife protocol we carefully went over each decision point. Remembering that when excavating it’s common for avalanche victims to be found face down and with their head down the slope too. Life threatening injuries. These include; decapitation, transection of the thorax or abdomen or being completely frozen (so CPR cannot be performed). These calls can only be made when the body is fully uncovered. N.B. Most traumatic injuries are survivable. Airway check. As soon as the head and torso are uncovered do not wait. Is there any snow in the nose or mouth? Only carefully remove what you can see (so as not to push things where they shouldn't go). A head tilt, chin lift, or jaw thrust will improve airway opening - being mindful of a possible neck injury in the unconscious patient.

Breathing check. For 10 secs if buried <60mins, or for a FULL minute if buried for >60mins. LOOKING, LISTENING, and FEELING for breath sounds or respiratory effort. Rescue breaths. Just like in drowning victims (snow is solid water after all) avalanche victims most commonly have an Airway / Breathing problem that we are trying to correct. Thus, we start resuscitation with five rescue breaths or ventilations to re-oxygenate the victim. Traditional mouth to mouth ventilation works very well but I would consider using a silicone Pocket Mask help with this: Pocket masks give an excellent seal over the nose and mouth making the rescue breaths more effective. Very handy if the patient isn't easy to access when the head and torso are initially uncovered. Plus, pocket masks have a one way valve, so you don’t come into contact with blood, vomit, germs, etc. Signs of Life. Any kind of response to seeing, hearing or feeling you. Movement of any kind. Pulse and pupils checks are not reliable in cold patients, and hence not helpful in determining if someone is alive or not. Burial duration. In the first 60 mins of burial, asphyxia and lack of oxygen is the biggest issue. Patient remains relatively ‘normothermic’. If surviving burial after 60 mins, cooling and hypothermia then becomes the biggest threat to life. But, if managed appropriately can be survivable Asphyxia If these victims have no life threatening injuries then they need high quality CPR for 6 minutes (time this). This is the amount of time (evidence based) that if there is going to be a benefit to the victim they will begin to show signs of life. After this time there is unlikely to be any benefit to the victim and your efforts are better focused on other casualties.

Participants in the Southern Hemispohere Alpine Conference avalanche rescue day take part in AvaLife training in Wanaka. Photo: Malin Zachau


Hypothermia Worth familiarising yourself with the 4 stages of hypothermia (see AvaLife). These victims need careful handling and efforts need to be taken to prevent them from getting any colder before being transferred to definitive care. If they have no airway issues, but no apparent signs of life, then high quality CPR, (remember to get the victim on a firm surface before starting this), often for extended periods is needed. Familiarity with the application and use of mechanical CPR devices can be life savers for patients and responders in these situations. There are many examples of extremely cold victims making a full recovery.

RETURN OF SPONTANEOUS CIRCULATION (ROSC): Visible clue. Found immediately. Hand sticking up though snow. Shallow burial. Face dug out. Non-responsive, no airway obstruction, not breathing. 5 rescue breaths delivered patient becomes responsive and starts to move. Leave this person in the snow, move on (if resources are limited) to the next buried victim. INJURIES INCOMPATIBLE WITH LIFE: Visible clue. Found immediately. Partially buried, next to rocks. Whole body uncovered and found with traumatic injuries to head, face and chest (blood everywhere, no movement or respiratory effort). Move on to next patient.

Trauma At any stage in an avalanche, major trauma reduces chances of survival. Treat bleeding to prevent further losses. Make efforts to prevent victims getting colder, as this impairs blood clotting among other things. Intermittent CPR (iCPR) There is evidence that in hypothermic avalanche victims, (buried > 60min) that the cold can have a protective effect on their body organs, (with a reduced need for oxygen). Thus, if there are issues with transport, terrain or lack staff to do effective CPR with these cases, then doing CPR intermittently may be acceptable. To begin this process the victim must first receive high quality CPR for 1/3 of the time that they have been buried. After which they can receive 5 mins of CPR followed by a maximum of 5 mins without. As the protocol suggests this is a last resort and not meant to be the norm.

Some possible AvaLife scenarios … I used 5 garden canes with tape on the top of each showing: whether there was clue or not, the burial depth and how long till the head / torso was dug out. Feel free to use these scenarios to practice with friends or colleagues, or have fun making your own scenarios. I would suggest that practising AvaLife should really be an annual event much like you would practice with your transceiver at the start of a season, otherwise, what is the point of having a transceiver?

ASPHYXIAL CARDIAC ARREST: Buried at 70cm for 17 minutes. Patient is non responsive, airway obstructed with snow, not breathing. 5 rescue breaths and then CPR. After 6 minutes CPR (with no ROSC) the team must move on to the next casualty. FOUND ALIVE, WITH TRAUMA: Buried at 120 cm, for 40 mins, next to rocks. Has air pocket, and signs of life. Obvious deformed R) thigh. Reduced conscious level from suspected trauma / shock. Alive but likely to deteriorate. HYPOTHERMIC - ONGOING CPR: Buried at 250 cm for 75min. Airway clear. Not breathing. No obvious injuries, when fully extracted. Good quality CPR until transferred to definitive care. CPR can be interrupted as burial > 60min, but needs CPR for at least 1/3 of the burial duration before starting intermittent CPR, 5 mins on: 5 mins off. Strictly timed. In summary AvaLife brings together the three components of a successful avalanche rescue for multiple casualties: 1. Effective search, with focus on surface clues first. 2. Effective excavation, focusing on the head and chest first. 3. Effective resuscitation, with management varying according to whether asphyxia or hypothermia is the main issue.

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This article first appeared in The Avalanche Review Vol. 38.4 In the last few years, momentum has exponentially grown to promote conversations about mental health, stress injuries, grief, and trauma in the outdoor industry. Many avalanche professionals have stepped forward to share their stories, which helps create and maintain healthy communities, with the byproduct of longevity in our careers. Without a doubt, 2013 was my breaking point. I had been experiencing years of difficult professional and personal life traumatic events and thought I had worked through my grief and PTSD, but started having nightmares, was anxious and detached from relationships. It started with fear in my job; anticipating catastrophic events, watching over my shoulder for anti- government folks, witnessing death and disaster in the place where I once searched for solitude. My escape, pleasure and paradise of backcountry skiing also brought pain and PTSD. I lost two friends within two months in avalanches. I didn’t stop running from my fear and pain. Six months later I was on a bike tour and became a victim of a hit and run. Almost losing my arm, it was severely broken and permanent nerve damage left me unable to open my hand for over a year. Each recovery process was interrupted by the next and I couldn’t catch up until the physical trauma took me down and left me to face it all. I had time to think about how all of these events had stacked up. As a park ranger, silence was prevalent; no one wanted to talk about traumatic events. I was told that, in the unfortunate case I needed to talk to someone, there was a chaplain, who sounded like someone distant, foreign, and disconnected from my community. We trained six months before we could travel on our own as rangers, but had no medical or pre-stress management training to manage events we may see out there. For my personal traumatic events, which were now compounding with professional trauma, I watched myself changing but didn’t understand what was happening. At the time there wasn’t a name for it and I was curious to understand more about how traumatic events affect us. I found multiple websites for veterans or basic information from therapy or counseling websites. To my surprise, with much research I found no support for the outdoor industry around bereavement and backcountry accidents, no one who spoke the language of skiing or climbing. During my search for peer support, I heard stories of suicide, attempted suicide, alcoholism, divorce, and escapism. I talked through events with friends, gave them resources I had found or participated in. It was a learning process taking information from others about their events, creating our own peer support group.

This led to the creation of SOAR—Survivors of Outdoor Adventures and Recovery. In 2014 I launched the Website with the vision of offering support for accident survivors to lead healthy lives through selfcare, staying connected to their communities, and continuing to adventure. This organization developed from not only my own experiences but also by compiling information and questions from other survivors and their friends and family members. SOAR embodies efficacy, connection, and hope, all of which are part of Physiological First Aid. When I heard Laura McGladrey on the Sharp End Podcast Episode 34Psychological First Aid, her message resonated with me. She was speaking about mental health in the outdoor industry, the topic I had been searching for. Through the Responder Alliance, Laura has become a powerful force in pioneering stress injury training and awareness. A veteran NOLS wilderness medicine instructor, emergency department nurse practitioner, and humanitarian aid worker, McGladrey works at the University of Colorado as a nurse practitioner with fire, ems and law


enforcement officers and systems who have been impacted by traumatic stress. She has piloted programs with Eldora and Monarch Ski Patrols and now works with rescue teams, ski patrols, snow scientists, guides, and national parks teams to identify and mitigate stress injuries on teams. This year you’ll find her hard at work in Yosemite, Denali, Rocky Mountains and the Tetons. With curiosity I dug a bit deeper into the Responder Alliance’s Website and learned that it has a mission to advance national conversation on stress injuries in rescue and outdoor culture. Laura is training Ambassadors in avalanche, ski patrol, search and rescue, and guiding communities to recognize and talk about stress impact. I was inspired and wanted to be part of this forward movement, combining their mission with my experience and passion. I found myself in Leadville, Colorado, in the fall of 2019, with other guides, rangers, patrollers, firefighters, law enforcement rangers, and avalanche folks, training to become a Responder Alliance Ambassador. Laura packed two weeks of information into three days of training. The energy, ideas, and collaboration were innovative and inspiring. I was asked to speak about my experiences and SOAR at the 4 Corners SAW in Silverton, CO. Inspired and now an Ambassador I jumped right in, discussing trauma formation and how it plays a role in our careers. I highlighted others who have come forward to share

their stories about traumatic stress injuries, then discussed how stress injuries are formed and mitigated while also discussing the momentum of mental wellness in the avalanche/ ski patrol community. I was inundated with follow-up questions from attendees and discussions on preparedness for the inevitable in our careers. Do you continue with the old ways of “debriefing” and how do we prepare for these events that inevitably affect us? In my presentation at 4SAW, I included excerpts from a podcast from the Utah Avalanche Center, hosted by Drew Hardesty. Drew mentions the idea of Pre-Traumatic Stress Management. He says, “Rather than waiting for teams to be surprised by overwhelming events and scramble to find someone to ‘debrief them,’ why not start the season with a pre-traumatic stress plan and practice for it? We train for rescue, beacon searches, etc. therefore we need to be talking about stress injuries and anticipate these events.” Pre-Traumatic Stress Management is a term that McGladrey and Hardesty often kick around. In a collaboration of thoughtfulness and years of experience, together they are determined to move this from a post to a pre movement. Follow up emails and conversations from 4SAW and my own inquisitiveness led me to query Laura and Drew for their insights:

SJ: Pre-Traumatic Stress Management, where do we start with our teams?

LMG: We’ve never seen the term stress injuries used for the avalanche community, and I don’t think we’ve named these exposure patterns for forecasters. It seems very pertinent to the conversation. We’ve identified that awareness, common language, and early recognition, as well as operational use of Psychological First Aid are the components of pre-traumatic stress management.

SJ: So, what do you call it?

LMG: Awareness, there’s something important about naming it. Once you can name it, you can recognize it, you can start to heal. If you can’t name it, it feels like it’s just something wrong with you. Naming the impact of the exposure and loss actually allows you to connect and make different choices. It’s unrealistic to watch people you’ve skied with, that you’re responsible for, that you’ve partnered with, injured and killed doing exactly what you love to do and not be affected by it. Gravity doesn’t work that way.

SJ: Stress injuries, how do they play a role in trauma formation?

LMG: This is the language that the military introduced in combat and operational stress first aid. We use it now in structural fire, law enforcement, and EMS. NOLS Wilderness Medicine, thanks to Tod Schimelphenig’s leadership, now has a section on Stress Injuries that fits squarely between head injuries and chest injuries. We saw Stress Injury introduced in Accidents in North American Mountaineering this year as climbing injury type. It’s fair to call this an exposure injury, but it’s more than that. It also happens with the wear and tear of decision-making, responding and depletion. If you’re a highway forecaster in the midst of the March 2019 avalanche cycle, closing roads, responding to one avalanche after another and the whole state is looking to you, you could sustain this injury without ever seeing a traumatic event. But add that kind of depletion to a bad call, or overwhelming trauma and you have the recipe for significant injury formation. These injuries occur on a continuum. They aren’t one size fits all. One of our great challenges in supporting this injury type currently is that we only have one name for it; Post Traumatic Stress Injury or PTSD, and the reactions associated with PTSD are very real, but represent a serious injury type. We haven’t had a language to recognize and identify early changes in this injury type. The stress continuum is designed to be a common language that responders could use to first recognize stress impact before it ever becomes an injury.


SJ: How do stress injuries develop?

LMG: There’s a formula, actually. Folks think if you do critical incident support you have a magical ability to determine when folks will get hurt. It’s not like that. Like so many things in avalanche, it’s pattern recognition and once you start looking for it you’ll see it everywhere. Stress injuries are formed when a stressor or series of stressors overwhelms the person experiencing its capacity to integrate it or make sense of it. This means stress injuries occur in a state of stress. That means look for the folks when something tough happens who are stressed, depleted and don’t feel like they can handle what’s in front of them. That’s whom traumatic exposure usually hurts. The human machine is actually made to respond to stressful situations, such as one’s car sliding off the road or a taking a small ride in an avalanche, and then skiing out of it. Each time that happens we mount a physical response, overcome, then send out a chemical ‘all clear’ signal and forget all about it. It’s not until moments when our brains register that ‘this could be really bad,’ or when we are isolated and can’t respond (think swept in the avalanche without a witness) that our brain register threat to life. At that moment, there’s a failure of the all-clear signal and we tend to mount a survival response. In those moments, even if we watch someone else caught in a slide, we will store the memory of it happening to us. At that moment, we flip a switch from living the lives we were living to survival. The brain and body’s primary goal becomes survival, which means rather than spending our lives enjoying skiing, falling in love and creating we are hyper vigilant, isolated, exhausted with less and less joy for the things we used to love.

SJ: Why the mission to change the way we talk about traumatic stress?

LMG: An adage that we work with often in my clinical work is “awareness, then choice.” If you don’t know that your life’s on fire, you won’t do anything about it. If you’re a patroller who has a short fuse, is feeling burned out on forecasting, dreads coming to work, but can’t do anything else and thinks it’s just how everybody feels at a certain point in their career, then you won’t try and change it. So often what we see as stress impact gets assigned to personality. We think, “that guy or gal is just toxic. Let’s get him out of here because it sucks to work with him.” We don’t say, “Man, that guy is really affected by losing half of the friends he started with, and weighed down with the responsibility of making these calls day after day. Let’s support him.” Until we name it, we won’t recognize it and we can’t do anything about it. There’s something important about naming it. Once you can name it, you can recognize it, you can start to heal. It’s like recognizing that chest pain, shortness of breath, and radiating pain have a name. Ah, heart attack. Right. I know what to do.

SJ: We are starting to see the stress continuum in ski patrol locker rooms, Ski Patrol Magazine and at SAW events. Tell us more about the continuum and have you created one for avalanche forecasters and guides?

LMG: The continuum was originally based on one used by the marines in Combat and Operational Stress First Aid. We have been calibrating it for Patrol, Rescue, and NPS climbing rangers and now avalanche. It has four stages Ready (Green), Reacting (Yellow), Injured (Orange) and Critical (Red). Eldora Ski Patrol is the first patrol I worked with who crafted this continuum for the Ski Patrol and Avalanche community. It was pretty simple. We put up four colored pages in PHQ (Patrol Headquarters) and let folks fill them out for patrol. At morning meeting, when patrollers do personal risk assessment, they take note of what color they are on the continuum. If folks are creeping up into the orange, they notice it and can take steps like taking some time off, connecting with each other or letting the patrol director know in order to take action. We also set a goal of finishing in the green as much as we can. Having a language and a goal to be healthy seems to be changing culture. No we haven’t created a forecaster or guide- specific continuum yet, but we’re working on it. I’m hoping someone reading this thinks, “This is what I want to do,” and reaches out to do it.

SJ: Drew, as a long-time forecaster can you give us an example of what stress injuries you’ve seen or experienced in your career?

DH: What’s interesting is that we have different kinds of forecasters and responders and the stress injury plays out differently. Each niche of avalanche forecasting—backcountry, highway, and ski area avalanche forecasting has its own type of stress, but they can all involve sleep deprivation, uncertainty, continuous attention to detail, perhaps even some close calls or accidents. There can be cumulative stress and a lifetime of exposure that can lead one toward traumatic stress without proper attention and support. Each of us assumes a great weight of responsibility to protect the public, commerce, and one another. A good example is the recent early February storm in the Wasatch Range. Upper Little Cottonwood Canyon received nearly 7” of SWE in 50 hours with sustained strong west winds. Nearly every avalanche


path ran naturally or with artillery. The backcountry forecaster issues the High to Extreme danger rating and tells people to hide under the bed. The highway forecaster gets very little sleep because the town of Alta is inter-lodged and the road is closed for 42 hours. The plow drivers then work to clean up the debris while underneath all of the avalanche paths that have run…but there is always some uncertainty here. What does seem to be common for all is the weight of the decisions that forecasters of all types have to make. If you’re a backcountry forecaster and you blow a forecast, someone might get hurt or killed. The same is true on a highway if a natural avalanche knocks cars off the road. No different for the patroller who keeps terrain open resulting in an inbounds avalanche or the guide who takes folks out only to have them swept and killed. It’s weighty, and the weight accumulates. I often joke that I get paid to pay attention but the truth of the matter is that paying attention is a lot of f---ing work. Paying attention all the time is hyper vigilance. Paying attention during continuous weather causes tremendous strain. It can wear on you. Heuristics are shortcuts that we use because we have to make decisions all the time and paying attention to everything all the time is exhausting. Some call it “lazy,” others “efficient.” These shortcuts work most of the time but that’s not good enough. Regardless, one must pay a high level of attention to the snow and the weather because avalanche conditions can turn on a dime...and because we know what’s at stake. There is this idea of message fatigue and inadequate patience. “You and the public get tired of saying the same things over, Depth hoar, facets at bottom...blah blah blah and nothing happens. You stop paying attention or let desire cloud judgment and then you blow it.”

SJ: Laura, you mention Psychological First Aid as a component of Pre-Traumatic Stress Management. What is it?

LMG: Psychological First Aid is basically a toolkit for folks responding to others who have been overwhelmed by what’s in front of them. They are tangible steps, stuff you might do anyway if you knew why it matters, to help folks fire off the all- clear signal we just talked about. In 2015 we formally added this injury type to our curriculum at NOLS Wilderness Medicine. We’ve been teaching folks for decades what to do to support and stabilize physical injuries. Now it’s time to have something up our sleeves for early intervention in psychological injury, like when you come on scene at an avalanche and see a partner with the thousand-mile stare. We should consider them injured too, stress injured. Dale Atkins wrote about this a few years ago in TAR 36.2, where he outlined the steps of PFA (psychological first aid). It’s really worth going back to review. I’d like to see us teaching this in avalanche education in the next few years.

SJ: At the end of my 4 SAW presentation, I was asked in a panel discussion “what advice in one word would you give someone dealing with traumatic stress” and my answer was, “connection.” Can you tell us your thoughts on connection and how it is a tool for pretraumatic stress management?

LMG: We know that in the traumatic stress literature, the single most important factor in how injured you will be after you experience a traumatic exposure is your level of social connectedness. This means that it matters if other people know you and have a sense of how you’re doing. One of the most impactful stories I’ve heard occurred after an inbound avalanche in Colorado where a patroller was killed. The local clinician showed up to the locker room and said, “You’re a family and families have what it takes to get through this. This is grief and you know what to do. I’ll be back tomorrow to check on you.” It brings us back to the basics. Creating teams that folks want to come home to when hard things hit might be the single most important thing we can do to mitigate traumatic stress. Sometimes it’s the hardest. What I candidly believe is it’s crucial to have your own peer support team, not necessarily from professionals. [We need] people to ground things with because that is our only real technology for integration of grief and trauma, the weightiness. This is our job, to do that for each other. I think that’s where we are moving in debriefing, instead of bringing people back into a hot topic that may trigger them. The old model is “we will wait till something bad happens, then come in with an eraser, and make it not bad.”

SJ: How do we prepare for the worst? Tell us your ideas on pre- traumatic stress management training?

LMG: This is where we need to break new trail. In all rescue teams that I work with, there is still near-universal agreement that we should only wait until after an event to support the traumatic stress, usually by an outside ‘expert’ that nobody knows. Nothing could be further from the truth. We can plan on traumatic things happening as backcountry, patrol, and highway forecasters, even as guides. We don’t want them to happen, but it’s not possible to eliminate all risk. If we know that stress injuries occur in a place of stress, then the innovation should be to reduce stress, both occupational stress and life stress, and


build capacity to respond to hard things. If you see yourself or your team getting depleted by early open or a continuous storm cycle, pay attention to the sleeplessness, the strain, the lack of connection, and the feeling of overwhelm. See what you can do about it. We know traumatic events are going to occur on the teams and areas where we work and play. It is rare for any of the teams I work with to get through the season without at least one fatality. Rather than waiting for teams to be surprised by overwhelming events and scramble to find someone to ‘debrief them,’ why not start the season with a Pre-Traumatic Stress Plan and practice for it? If you could predict next week that you were going to have one of the hardest most difficult moments of your life, could you look around and know who your people are and the level and connection you have with these people? If you don’t have one or two people this makes you so vulnerable to shame, regret, moral injury. The people you come home to are the predictors of how well you integrate trauma. Not the people who come in and spend two hours in your critical incident debrief. I think in decision-making and avalanche, the more you engage in those resources to get folks to a point where they feel like they have enough [resources] for the situation ahead, have something to offer, they are connected to the people and can stay present throughout the whole scene, the better the decisions they will make in real time. That’s actually an operational outcome. If we could pair how important these resiliency factors are to pre-resourcing we would have it. As this movement gains traction, start by taking a look at your team and yourself and determine where you are in the continuum. Do you have appropriate tools in your box when the inevitable happens?

If you want to learn more about these tools and topics check out, and

Stress Continuum READY Let’s Shred. I love this job. Let’s get some good observations. I do uphill laps before work. Stoked to pick up shifts. Light-hearted. I’m coming back next year. I love working lower mountain. People are nice.

INJURED Lack motivation for off-work skiing. Lack of snow nerd interest. Drinking to forget or to feel numb. Dealing with early uphill. Call dodging. Eating too much. Showing up late or not at all. Stressed out watching people ski from the lift. Too tired to play

REACTING Coverage sucks. Dreading the cold. Cutting corners. Something hurts, I’m working anyway. My weekend wasn’t long enough. Others aren’t pulling their weight. I’m not working extra.

CRITICALLY INJURED • I don’t want to ski. • Doing nothing outside work. • Drinking when it’s dangerous. • Insomnia or dreams about last call. • Work projects to avoid patient care. • Going through the motions. • No emotion. • Scared to ski.

COSFA, created by Eldora Ski Patrol and adapted by Laura McGladrey


The Five Step Method A Briefing Format for Avalanche Terrain Travel By Khan Coleman The importance of good communication is a concept that has been understood for quite some time. In the 19th century, Russian philosopher and author Fyodor Dostoevsky said, “Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid”. As Dostoevsky alluded to, a lack of or poor communication can lead to a multitude of negative outcomes. Confusion, conflict, inefficiency, uncertainty and missed opportunities are to name a few. For people working and travelling in avalanche terrain, these are clearly undesirable outcomes. Many things are out of our control when we are travelling in avalanche terrain. One thing that should always be within our control is how we communicate. It makes sense to do whatever we can to ensure we do this well. Especially if we have the safety of others in our hands. In this context, the consequences of not managing the ‘bewilderments’ can all too quickly lead to ‘unhappiness’ in the form of people becoming hurt or killed in avalanches. So what is the solution? It is to make sure that nothing is left unsaid of course! One way of achieving this is by having a set briefing structure that can be utilized to communicate information. When delivering a briefing, by definition, the purpose is to instruct or inform thoroughly, especially in preparation for a task. The outcome should be that the listeners understand the plan and overall goals. They should be informed what to do, why they are doing it, and how to do it. If done well then confusion and assumptions should be eliminated or very much minimized. To achieve this, information should be presented in a concise and logical formation that is easy to follow. Having a well structured briefing is also beneficial as it acts as a checklist for the leader while simultaneously providing a briefing for the group. The leader is essentially verbalizing their thought process to the group as they work through the checklist. This benefits the leader as they shouldn’t miss any critical steps. If the group is then encouraged to raise concerns, ask questions and offer suggestions, they should be totally clear on every aspect of the task. Such discussions allow the group to be more involved with the planning instead of just being told what to do, which should mean they are totally clear on all aspects of the task at hand, from the overall goals down to the necessary details. Given this improvement in situational awareness, the group is likely to be more inclined to look for and pass on key observations and information as they should understand what to look for and why. All of this should lead to a more cohesive team environment that encourages a positive flow of communication.

A pre-avalanche control work briefing at Whakapapa. Photo: Khan Coleman

As with anything, there is usually a multitude of different ways to achieve the same result. There are almost certainly many different versions of avalanche terrain travel briefings actively in use. The version that is presented in this article is just one particular format. I was first introduced to it at Whakapapa Ski Area where it is taught and used as a format for patrollers to provide briefings and manage their team or partner whilst undertaking avalanche control work or travelling in the backcountry. When I was going through preparation for my ARM L6 it was recommended to me to utilize it for the assessment courses as there is a large component of leading groups through terrain. In both contexts, myself and many others have found immense value in having a well structured and easy to use briefing format. This particular briefing has come to be known as The Five Step Method. It has also been referred to as the ‘five finger approach’ as it can be written or abbreviated onto each digit of a gloved hand to ensure easy recollection and use in the field!




AVALANCHE PROBLEM TYPE/HAZARD HOW TO MOVE THROUGH Turoa pre-avalanche control meeting. Photo: Brendon Nesbit




Whilst managing avalanche terrain it is best practice to move from safe spot to safe spot. It needs to be quite clear exactly what ‘spot’ you are referring to. Use clear, easily identifiable features as descriptions.


Identify the avalanche paths the group could be exposed to and need to negotiate to get to the next safe spot.


Identify the avalanche problem type(s) that exist and how they relate (or not) to the avalanche terrain that needs to be negotiated. Relate the forecast hazard to the actual hazard with field observations and tests and explain how that impacts travel plans.


Given all of the above, provide a suitable plan and route for getting to your next safe spot and define exactly how you will move through. This is the time to decide on techniques such as spacing or one at a time etc. It may be helpful to set a 'boundary' such as 'ski only to the right of my tracks to avoid triggering an avalanche on my left’.


This is the escape plan, or what to do in the event of an avalanche, just in case you blew it. This is about knowing exactly where to travel if an avalanche occurs anywhere along the route. There may be a need to identify critical points along the path which may have different escape routes depending on where you are in the path. It also may include a plan for alerting others you're in an avalanche (by yelling or a quick radio message). If airbags are being worn, this may be a good time to quickly remind people to check their triggers are ready for use.

This briefing may seem like it could take some time but in reality, it should not take longer than a few moments. Particularly as most of the time you should be running through it multiple times throughout travel to adjust for the changing nature of the terrain you are moving through, especially if you are managing terrain that is more challenging or complex. In the very first instance, you may need to provide more in-depth information such as that which pertains to the avalanche problem types. As the group becomes more informed and understanding of the conditions, the leader will be able to make the briefing a lot more concise and snappy to keep things moving. The briefing is also scalable in that sometimes you may only need to touch on a few of the points that are relevant to your present location. An example of this could be that you have a section of travel that does not need to negotiate avalanche terrain, so you might just use step 1 to explain where you are heading, step 2 to explain that you are not in avalanche terrain (which negates step 3) and step 4 to explain movement if needed.

...if we don't communicate well with our groups or partners then all of our other work can easily be undermined. In summary, this briefing format can be applied in a range of different settings which require travelling as a group or pair through avalanche terrain, in both a recreational and professional context. As previously stated, this is only one particular example that has proven useful for many so far. If necessary you may prefer to change the order you deliver the briefing in or add/remove steps. The important thing is that it works for the leader and for the group to ensure that good communication is maintained. We can be highly proficient operators and individuals but if we don't communicate well with our groups or partners then all of our other work can easily be undermined. May your time spent travelling in avalanche terrain be free of bewilderment and full of happiness.


Avalanche Modelling

A massive powder cloud erupts during active avalanche control along the Milford Road (SH94) NZ. Photo Courtesy of S. Redwood, Milford Road Alliance

on the Milford Road Aubrey Miller1, Pascal Sirguey1, Simon Morris2, Perry Bartelt3, Nicolas Cullen4, and Yves Buhler3 1 National School of Surveying, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand 2 Downer NZ Ltd, Milford Road Alliance, Te Anau, New Zealand 3 WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Davos, Switzerland 4 School of Geography, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Why model hazards? It goes without saying snow avalanches are hazardous. Whether released naturally or artificially, the hazards to people and infrastructure are well-documented and innately understood. However, precisely quantifying the hazard posed by a particular kind of avalanche in a particular location at a particular time is much more difficult. Drawing from experience and both conceptual and applied knowledge, practitioners are quite effective at rapid hazard assessment in the field. One might conduct the assessment differently than another equally experienced and knowledgeable practitioner, perhaps reaching slightly different conclusions, but would probably broadly agree on the fundamentals—terrain, snow, weather, people—and how they might combine to create a manageable or unmanageable hazard. Our collective experiences with terrain and previous events help form expectations for future avalanche hazards. A building that was constructed 100 years ago still standing today provides evidence it has been at least 100 years since an avalanche large enough to destroy a building has occurred in that location (assuming it was not destroyed and rebuilt). This archive of knowledge also characterises how we perceive the range of scenarios possible in a given path. The problem, however, is scenarios drawn from this archive may not cover all possibilities — especially where documentation is scarce. Luckily advances in hazard modelling can help paint a more complete picture of what may be possible and what may be likely. Computer models are fallible just like humans, yet when trained properly and calibrated for site-specific conditions, they offer a way to quantify what hazards may be posed by extreme avalanche events for which no observations exist. They can also simulate scenarios based on changing terrain (a defensive structure, erosion in gullies, or rapid down-wasting of a glacier, for example) and changing snow conditions (timing and intensity of storms, for example). We are using the Rapid Mass Movement Simulation (RAMMS) model (Christen et al., 2010) to better understand avalanche hazards in Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ). Developed by the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) in Switzerland, RAMMS has been proven as a reliable and accurate tool to help assess the hazards posed by snow avalanches, rockfall and debris flows. Today it is used as a standard tool to help generate legally binding hazard maps in Switzerland and many other countries. With our colleagues at the SLF we are investigating what extreme avalanche events scenarios are possible at key locations in NZ.



Figure 1 - Debris toe from LiDAR scan (left), Planet Labs (2020) satellite image with zoomed inset showing area of debris captured hours after the event (right).

These scenarios will help with hazard planning for people and infrastructure. In Switzerland there are strict design specifications for new buildings in or near avalanche terrain based on extreme event hazard assessment. While much less infrastructure in NZ is at risk from extreme events compared with Switzerland, there is still much to learn about extreme avalanche hazards in NZ. To perform extreme event scenarios the model must be first calibrated to site-specific conditions. The remainder of this article will focus on the event we used for calibrating RAMMS along the Milford Road, the challenges posed by the unique snow and terrain conditions in

Avalanche Hazard Model We are using the scientific version of RAMMS (Bartelt et al., 2016; Vera Valero et al., 2016), which allows us to simulate both warm wet avalanches and powder clouds in addition to the avalanche core. This is essential for the plunging avalanches in Fiordland where the snowpack in the release area may have a depth of many meters, but the runout in the valley floor often has little or no snow with a variable freezing level somewhere along the track. At the same time, the steep topography and cliff faces in the avalanche tracks result in powder cloud formation from warm wet avalanches as they descend rapidly over the steep rocky and treeless terrain. Finally, due to that topographic relief (e.g., a plunging avalanche might descend 900 m in less than 1.5 km) the entrained snow temperature and structure will change drastically depending on where it sits in the path. With the documentation of snow conditions and avalanche behaviour recorded by the Milford Road Alliance (MRA), we can calibrate RAMMS for these challenging conditions and assess how well the model performs before conducting what-if scenarios for avalanches affecting the state highway.

September 2020 McPherson Avalanche The MRA avalanche technicians documented a large artificially released avalanche from McPherson Path on September 19th, 2020. Documentation included videos from the ground and onboard a helicopter, as well as a terrestrial LiDAR scan from immediately after the event capturing in fine detail both the debris and release area.

A satellite image within several hours of the event also allowed us to delineate the debris in the valley. Figure 1 details some of the documentation from immediately after the event. The McPherson Path is typical of avalanche paths along Milford Road with large release zones (~60 ha) with a typical slope angle of 30 – 35 degrees. The track is characterised by steep cliffs and benches before a long runout in the valley. Figure 2 shows an elevation profile of the McPherson avalanche we document here where the avalanche descended vertically 860 m from the highest point in the release area (1780 m) over a distance of 1,400 m to the toe of the debris in the valley. The crown/fracture line of the avalanche was 1,346 m long with an average depth of 1.53 m, where the total snow depth averaged 3 m. There was minimal new snow in the valley. Two storms in quick succession arrived in Fiordland before the avalanche event on September 19th. The first started around midday on September 4th and concluded by midnight. A steady precipitation rate of 8 mm/hr with a freezing level of 1,600 m was observed for ten hours along with low wind speeds. This led to uniform increases in the start zone snow height by the end of the storm. The second storm started early on September 13th and ended around midnight on September 17th, over which period 370 mm of precipitation was recorded. The first half of the storm had a precipitation rate between 6 to 10 mm/hr with the second half of the storm recording a lower precipitation rate of about 2 mm/hr. The freezing level started around 1,600 m and by the next morning had risen to between 1800 and 1900 m. During the night of the 14th the freezing level dropped again to around 800 m before climbing back to 1,600 m the next morning where it remained until the end of the storm. These freezing level swings likely led to changes in the new snow densities. Based on video footage, the avalanche reached the valley floor 37 seconds after the explosive charge. Figure 3 shows the avalanche core as it comes over the second cliff band.


Figure 2 - Elevation profile from 2m DSM derived from MRA LiDAR data with average slope angles given for McPherson Path from the top of the release area to the toe of the debris. The image in upper right shows where the profile was drawn relative to the three release areas and final deposition area. The avalanche descended 860 m over a distance of 1,400 m.

Model Simulations Using LiDAR scanning data from MRA, we generated a 2 m digital surface model (DSM) to perform the RAMMS simulation. Based on the video evidence we created three separate release areas that went sequentially 3, 5 and 6 seconds after the explosive charge, totalling 11.7 ha in area with a total release volume over 175,000 m3. To give some perspective, the snow released would fill 70 Olympic-sized swimming pools or 145 of the world’s largest cargo planes. The average slope angles in the three release areas were 42°, 34°, and 37° respectively. Using a weather station less than 1 km away from the avalanche release areas, the snow temperature in the top 1.5 m of the snowpack was -0.83 °C, with the average temperature of the bottom 1.5 m of the snowpack equal to -1.3 °C, making it a warm avalanche. The average density of the snowpack in release area was 400 kg/m3. The release mass was over 71,000 t (the payload of 284 of those planes!) with a total core mass of nearly 112,000 t. The avalanche simulation showed the core reaching a maximum velocity of up to 280 kph with the powder cloud coming over the lower cliff band at speeds in excess of 350 kph. We calculated a total deposition volume of nearly 95,000 m3 based on the satellite image showing the area of deposition. Figures 4 and 5 show some of the outputs from the simulation, including estimated maximum core velocity and powder velocity, powder pressure and surface difference (areas of deposition and erosion).

Figure 3 – September 2020 McPherson Avalanche as seen from the MRA Alpine Operation Centre with core coming over second cliff band. Release area visible in upper right of top image. Photos courtesy of Milford Road Alliance.


Next Steps The simulation successfully captured the plunging nature of the McPherson avalanche. The documentation collected by MRA was instrumental in calibrating the avalanche for the snow conditions and terrain in Fiordland. We will now start calibrating other kinds of avalanches (e.g., colder, drier) in other nearby paths that affect the highway. We will also start adjusting the parameters to simulate different snow conditions leading to altered avalanche behaviour. For example, we will use scenarios to address operational questions (What kind of avalanche would generate impact pressures from the powder cloud air blast to flatten trees at the end of the McPherson Path? Or, What impact pressures are estimated in East Homer path if the 90% of the potential release area goes?). Adjusting the simulations based on MRA operational needs and incorporating new documentation from avalanches this season to further refine the calibrations will then support extreme event scenarios.

Figure 4 - Maximum core velocity (left) and maximum powder velocity (right) for McPherson avalanche simulation. Release areas and deposition area noted as well. Note different scales for colour bars.

The goal for hazard modelling is to produce actionable information to make people safer and minimise impact to infrastructure. Specifically, we test hypotheses about what to expect from an avalanche given a suite of snow and terrain conditions and use the results to change the way we manage risk, often in the form of hazard indication maps (Bühler et al., 2018). Finally, the modelling results shed light on possible scenarios that may not be in our collective archive of knowledge about avalanche terrain and help us plan for a future we may not be able to anticipate from our past. After work in Fiordland, we will start hazard modelling in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and the Craigieburn Range.

References Bartelt, P., Buser, O., Valero, C.V. and Y. Bühler. 2016. Configurational energy and the formation of mixed flowing/powder snow and ice avalanches, Annals of Glaciology, 57(71), 179 - 188, doi:10.3189/2016AoG71A464.

Figure 5 - Surface difference (areas of erosion and deposition) from simulation (left) and powder cloud pressure from the simulation (right).

Bühler, Y., von Rickenbach, D., Stoffel, A., Margreth, S., Stoffel, L., and M. Christen. 2018. Automated snow avalanche release area delineation – validation of existing algorithms and proposition of a new object-based approach for large-scale hazard indication mapping, Nat. Hazards Earth System Science, 18, 3235–3251, Christen, M., Kowalski, J., and P. Bartelt. 2010. RAMMS: Numerical simulation of dense snow avalanches in three-dimensional terrain, Cold Regions Science and Technology, 63, 1–14. Vera Valero, C., Wever, N., Bühler, Y., Stoffel, L., Margreth, S. and P Bartelt. 2016. Modelling wet snow avalanche runout to assess road safety at a high-altitude mine in the central Andes, Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 16(11), 2303-2323, doi:10.5194/nhess-16-2303-2016.


Chris e n a r h Coc ecaster r o F A A Z N Area n w o t s n e e Qu

Interview by Rebekah Wilson Knowing a mountainous region like the back of your hand is a special skill, but it’s the reality for the forecasters of the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory’s (NZAA) 12 regions. We spoke to Chris Cochrane from the Queenstown region about how snow conditions have changed significantly over four decades and what it means to be an avalanche forecaster. It's his 40th season as a heliski guide in the region – yep, not a misprint. He came onboard with the NZAA in 2002, so it’s safe to say he has plenty of experience.

What is unique to your forecasting region and why? The large Queenstown forecast region encompasses many backcountry areas from Cardrona in the north, Mt Larkins (Glenorchy) and Coronet Peak through to Mt Hyde to the west, the Snow Farm to the east and the full length of the Remarkables range to Kingston at the Southern end of the region, not to mention in amongst these ranges are peaks above 2300m. Because of the region’s geographical position, different weather patterns produce significantly differing snow events. By this I mean that a NW storm will see different snow pattern to that of a southerly or easterly storm which makes this region totally different from anywhere else in the country. For example, a 50cm snow fall from the NW at Coronet peak may only be 15cm across the lake at the Remarkables and vice versa with a southerly blast. This is where the NZAA has become a valuable tool for backcountry users. We can direct users to areas that are perhaps sheltered from


gale winds, where some great conditions can be had compared to another area that if you went there you may be spend the day on scoured windswept slopes, such is the positives of this region. If conditions are marginal somewhere, a 40-minute drive could have you in powder heaven. These are the intimate details I have about the region and always readily want to share with visitors and locals alike. Our variety here of elevation, aspect and mountain ranges is truly unique and they are also accessible within a relatively short drive. However, this also produces its own unique problems with the backcountry accessible from four ski-fields.

What do you think is a common misconception about the conditions and terrain from the users who access the region’s backcountry? There is a common misconception with wilderness areas very close to controlled ski area boundaries that conditions are similar or help is close by which could not be further from the truth. We have had many injuries and fatalities basically within view of local ski-fields. The NZAA (and myself) have been working hard in conjunction with local ski patrol to change this mindset amongst the many varied users. On any given day we may see a broad range of users from guided groups, heli-skiers, ski tourers, mountaineers, ice climbers, trampers, hunters, people snow shoeing or snowmobilers travel through and use our local backcountry.

What changes have you noticed over the time you have been forecasting? Well, yes unfortunately there has been a decrease in snow depth since I began my professional career. The snowline has gradually been rising and the glory days are long gone for multiple days of deep powder around this region. Let me give you a few examples... Skiing in knee deep powder at Coronet Peak was a common experience for 15 to 20 days during a regular season (there was the odd bad season as well). However, these days it is more a rare occurrence and would be lucky to have it twice if at all. Ski touring from Coronet Peak to Treble Cone could be completed without taking your skis off, these days it involves long stretches with no snow. This season is a typical example, we’ve had the precipitation but unfortunately the freezing level has been so high it has mostly fallen as rain, not snow. Another change has been the seasons are coming later. By this I mean over the past five years there is often more snow in October and November than any other month.

What’s your motivation to be a forecaster? And why do you think forecasting is important to back country users? Unless you’re a snow fanatic it would almost be impossible to track snow conditions, weak layers, storm cycles and avalanche cycles. As a heliski guide I am at the (so called) coal face most days. I know when it is dangerous and I know when it is safe. I also know the joy of getting away from the crowds and our local backcountry still holds the powder conditions we all seek. Daily, I can update users of conditions, tell them where the powder can be found and most importantly what areas to avoid and why.

Any tips or advice you have for people heading into your forecasting region this season? If you’re new to the areas, or a seasoned user, there is plenty of information available to help you make informed decisions before heading out. We have a passion to keep people safe so read the daily bulletins and talk to the friendly ski patrol. We want everyone to enjoy the backcountry but most of all be safe. Several ski shops in town rent backcountry essentials including beacons, shovels and probes use safe and ‘make it home’!


The Mountain Safety Collective

August 2017, Aussie Drift /Avalanche Gully, Mount Hotham Victoria, Australia: Two tourers had skied a ‘safe’ line on the slope and on the skin up one kick turn triggered this avalanche. Photo Mountain Safety Collective. 50

The evolution of the Australian avalanche and alpine hazard advisory By Simon Murray Ski and split-board touring in Australia have, like everywhere else on the planet, taken the front seat as the growth area in the ski industry. Add to this fact Covid-19 restrictions and participation has skyrocketed. If you head out into the backcountry of the Australian Alps today, you will see most people carrying the basic gear that you would expect anywhere else: beacon / shovel / probe, extra layers, emergency shelter, first aid, etc. In the not too distant past (about seven years ago) it was a very different scene: there would be alarm, a little casual toxic masculinity, or just pure inquisitive discombobulation at what we see used today regularly. In general terms, Australia’s approach to alpine safety was appalling by comparison to international standards. In Australia, a comparison dilemma had set up a trap for would be alpinists and one that has not yet been entirely disarmed along the winding skin trail to international standards. Whether by accident or convergent evolution, in Australia we also have an MSC. However, ours is not a Mountain Safety Council but a Mountain Safety Collective. This collective consists of the people who had the line of sight across what was taking place domestically compared to what was standard abroad. As an example: in Australia, avalanche awareness stood in stark relief against the backdrop of what was happening internationally. We also get some wild rime crusts, horrible frozen rainstorms and all the worst bits of low elevation mountain ranges found anywhere else in the world. Let’s take a quick look at avalanches in Australia: In a hut well above the snowline a boisterous and animated conversation erupted between two ski parties (one older, one younger) about the likelihood of avalanche conditions. The argument comes to a head with the statement: “I’m a snowflake, I’m formed in the clouds, I’m descending to earth and just before I land I realise that I’m in Australia. As a result, even though I was swept to the leeward side of the ridge to come to a halt and to hold hands with my new, somewhat slabby looking friends, I’m not going to avalanche! I’m on a 30˚+ slope, and I’m sitting on a weak layer but I’m Australian snow now so I’m not going to avalanche." The young bloke sips more wine from the bladder and pronounces, "How does the snow know?", somewhat disingenuously, while holding his arms wide, half imitating the snowflake he’s personifying. He stomps his foot and


pronounces, "The snow doesn’t know." I think this was all in response to the statement, "Avalanches don’t happen in Australia." Which reminded me of another similar sentiment from a mentor years before: "The snow doesn't know you’re an expert!". This sentiment, that the young but worldly ‘Snowflake Impersonator’ was confronting, is the comparison dilemma. Yes, the mountains here are low by comparison, they are not particularly steep at scale by comparison, and as a result an attitude that we don’t have to take them very seriously by comparison is born. The old guard was guided by the confirmation bias that ‘you don’t see avalanches in Australia’ which seems true given that natural avalanches are only occasional over a season, yet they still occur. Add to that equation better more accessible ski and splitboard touring technology and we had more people in avalanche terrain and pressing the avalanche button. In 2014 an unfortunate circumstance of a warming upside-down snowpack in tandem with steep convex terrain, an avalanche occurred that buried two young men. The constriction of the gully they were carried into meant that the victims’ bodies were buried so

Top right: The numbers tell the story, and the MSC has tailored there messaging approach to fit those numbers. Bottom right: It's not just avalanche hazard travelers face. Other alpine hazards are listed in the MSC hazard analysis for backcountry users. Left: Rescue training in Australia.


deep that standard probes could not locate them. The two men were not carrying beacons and an exhaustive search ensued using modified four metre rebar rods to eventually locate them. This sequence of events conspired to make those who had developed an awareness of avalanche hazards begin to collaborate and do something. In 2015 we built a website and published the field observations from trips we’d done. This was hopelessly inadequate in hindsight but a huge step forward in addressing the issue of avalanche awareness. Between us, we could barely wave an avalanche qualification but we had lots of local knowledge and enthusiasm. Fortuitously a gracious and understanding avalanche professional, Alexandra Sinikas, had recently returned to Australia from Canada. Alexandra liked what we were doing but also saw the challenges, so she reached out and helped us get to the starting line of an international standard. By 2017 we had a membership base sufficient to provide funding to contract a report which consisted of a review and recommendations to tell us ‘What we knew we didn’t know.'. Alan Jones and his team including Penny Goddard through Dynamic Avalanche Consulting provided us a roadmap of how to progress to a credible and reliable operation. Importantly,we conducted a review with our membership. This consult rightly pointed out that whilst abroad avalanches are the prominent daily concern, in Australia rime ice and bulletproof melt freeze conditions or horrible weather contribute to a possible greater risk than avalanches on any given day. The evidence showed that if we are to develop a relevant alpine conditions report it would be remiss of us to not weigh these additional hazards alongside the avalanche hazard. More research showed services for similar mountain characteristics occurred in other international locations including, Eastern Canada, the UK and in Scandinavia. Top Photo: The MSC has produced a series of maps and guides to popular areas where people recreate in the winter.

Bottom Photo: Signs and symptoms of the type of climate ski tourers and forecasters are dealing with in the Australian Alps!

Fast forward from 2017 to now and we have advanced beyond what were just colourful and elaborate anecdotes to succinct, timely and informative field reports. Importantly we’ve seen a marked decrease in incidents. Sure, there’s been a few near misses but only one fatality in that time. We have roped together a Google Sheet version of our Info-Ex that is fed by our pro-team in collaboration with ski patrols. Craig Sheppard is our Program Director. He’s been with us two years and comes from Lake Louise where he headed up forecasting and the avalanche mitigation staff. He was also a course instructor for the Canadian Avalanche Association for fourteen years which for us is the last kick turn before we make the ridge line of professional development.


In Australia we sadly lack the regulation that most other alpine regions enjoy. Enjoy regulation? It does sound weird but through regulation you get standardisation. Without standardisation you don’t have training or the recognition that follows. We have a guiding industry that is in its infancy and will sadly be hobbled by a lack of accreditation until these combined spokes are fixed to the wheel of which affordable insurance is the hub. Most savvy clients ask for local accreditation and in most instances are met with sideways glances and pregnant pauses from both the "cowboys" and the ticketed pros. The positive from all of this is that we hope you will see our endeavour manifest through an increase in avalanche aware Aussies arriving on your shores once the Covid-19 wave breaks.

our service as it's risk management backbone. The Avalanche Training Centre (see photo below) that we have installed free to the public is a collaboration with Alpine Access Australia, Arc’teryx and Mammut. The community, whilst damaged by the ongoing challenges of Covid-19, remains resilient and out for fun.

Additionally, the Mountain Safety Collective is central to a lot of fun backcountry activity including the Victorian Backcountry Festival that operates using

For more information about the Mountain Safety Collective visit their website at:

We’d like to acknowledge the dedicated volunteers who have pushed so hard now for over 6 years to what we have today: 600+ paid-up members, our Parks Victoria and Outdoor Victoria partners, and importantly the behind-the-scenes teams of Cam Walker, Nez Watters, Nitasha Randall, Pieta & Dave Herring, Owen Lansbury, Luka Szczepanik, Kyle Boys, Bill Barker, Jordan O'Neill & Rolf Schonfeld.

The Mountain Safety Collective, Avalanche Training Centre ATC at Hotham Resort, Australia. The ATC is stationary system for training transceiver and probe searches (see page 72 for more details). Photo MSC.


Phil Couch

A Journey with Search Dogs

JANE DOVE photography


With roots in Canterbury where I was born and lived for the first five years of my life, my family moved with the swarming diaspora of the 60s, to Auckland and eventually settled in Taranaki. That was a bit of me. Wild coast for miles and a wilder mountain to form my dreams on. I began exploring the huts and tracks around the Northern Taranaki slopes while at school with the Spotswood tramping club and later with friends. Then I found a job with DoC working on the tracks in our Northern Zone. I particularly loved the weeks away in huts with good comrades and adventures after work hours. Fit as a buck rat and a growing disdain for city life I started looking to the big white mountain to the east. In 1978 I heard they were building a new ski area on the south western side of Ruapehu. My sister had recently moved to Ohakune, so that was an invitation for me. I packed the Combi with the few belongings I had and….gone burger. I slipped into building on the cafe at Turoa’s Midfield that year, then building in town for summer; a job that filled the off seasons for decades to come.

With more money than I’d seen before I decided a little OE was in order. First stop Brisbane where I worked briefly, bought tickets to Nepal for some R&R, then overland to London. I chanced an off season visit to Gulmarg pre gondola days and tragically missed out on Afghanistan because of the impending Russian invasion. Slipped through Iran soon after the Shah had been deposed and landed in wonderful Turkey. The rest is a blur. The UK was cold but Morocco, hot. 1980 and broke, it was time to head home. The following winter I was deicing at Turoa, yes an actual job. I got good at it, to the point that once we cleared the lifts of ice they got me working the T bars. Perhaps not glamorous but, I could ski all day as long as the lift turned and me and my buddy had ski breaks. Best job on the hill? Well there was that group of knobs in red coats that got a little more skiing in. Fortunately a Californian Patroller friend, Mary Eich, was working at Turoa. She reckoned she could get me a job at Snow Mountain near Big Bear, patrolling. Sweet...and so it was. I learned to party Californian style. I found it amusing that they shut the lifts if there was any ice on them.

JANE DOVE photography


Jane Dove photography

I stayed the following summer, saving for another OE, then hitched a ride over the border into Baja Mexico. Tenting among the giant cactus, fishing for my meals and snorkelling for bait. Fluorescent waves on lonely beaches left an indelible memory. Next was Mexico City and on to the Yucatan then Belize and finally Guatemala, 1987 home again and finally I began patrolling on Turoa. My first encounter with search Dogs was in early winter, 1997. The newly formed Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation (RARO), a SAR team, had been called out to search for two buried climbers who had been climbing on the Pinnacles at Whakapapa in an isolated accumulation of snow. The third climber had been tossed clear in the slide with a broken leg. This was in the bad old days, before we all had cell phones, so he had to do it hard and crawl back to Delta hut to find help at around 2am. By this time the weather had changed from cold, dry snow to misty, wet, leaving the snow surface resembling year old Marzipan icing, sealed hard. Our team arrived at the old Knoll Ridge Café where we had picture

perfect views of the likely slide paths and run out zones. The problem was that the debris had been erased. The plan was to send in a team to start a scuff search and spot probe the obvious. Within minutes of their deployment we watched Muzza Brown zero in on a small waterfall and strike one climber on his 3rd probe, textbook stuff. Time to deploy the remaining searchers and the unknown Dog teams. Enter the Police dog teams of Cooch and Deano. Us minions formed probe lines and set about the tedious job of searching the area surrounding the located body for hours. Meanwhile Cooch and co. set about trying to pick up and scent from the glazed over snow pack. I was fascinated watching them work but, they had it hard as the ice cut their paws leaving bloody patches as distracting scents. With no more success by the afternoon our teams broke off into random team searches probing wider and more unlikely areas until the search was called off for the day.


While the RARO group had organised a team to resume the following day Cooch’s team took up residence in the Café overnight and planned their search ahead of the clumsy probe teams. First light and the dog teams were over the site in a flash. However, the dogs were more interested in the adjacent catchment and made their find in minutes. This wasn’t my first avalanche recovery on Ruapehu. I hate probe lines with a passion. They aren’t designed for live rescues. If I could only get a chance to change these outcomes…well I’d try anything. Watching dogs work in an avalanche area was my ‘eureka’ moment. A year later we had a black Lab pup, Bess. Perhaps not the character I’d look for now in a dog but, she had a loyalty and determination to please that made her a joy to work with. I was later told “the dog’s got what it takes, it's you that needs to catch up”. Enter Robert Gibson. Robert was coordinating the Police Dog section in Avalanche training. There was a group of about 12 dog teams and Robert was introducing them to the Ruapehu alpine environment and snow searching. I got chatting to


him during one of these sessions and he invited me to a summer training camp in Kawhia. I agreed and spent the weekend roaming the hills as dog bait. I was impressed daily with the dogs and bitches scenting and tracking but, in the evenings heard the handlers bitching and fracking. So it began…. Robert invited Bess and I to an assessment camp at Cardrona the following winter. I had no confidence that we could make a search dog team, but he did. I figured he knew what to look for, so I thought what the hell. From there I took it to my new boss, Dave Mazey. RAL had just acquired Turoa in 1999/2000. Dave was surprisingly receptive to the idea of sending Bess and myself south on a mission to have the first Operational Avalanche Dog in the North Island. Me, I couldn’t work out why, but thanks Dave! Dave also helped with the red tape that DoC laid out to keep dogs from our Heritage National Park. Oh yeah! 2001, our first assessment. Bess flew off from the deployment area 60m in a sprint to the first find in under 30 seconds. I redeployed her and she found the second in under 5 minutes.

Search over. My confidence grew with time. Bess served me well on and off the snow for the next 8 years until sadly her health waned. However she also managed to mentor in the new recruit. Enter Ice dog. Ice was the runt of the litter and chosen for her size. Turoa still had 2 T-bars in 2008. As fit as I thought I was, carrying Bess’s 28kg on top of my pack up a T bar left my legs quivering after the 300m vertical ride. Ice was a compact Lab who had a ”something to prove” attitude that made our team reliable in the worst of conditions. From a crampon in the paw the day before an assessment to a relentless graupel storm, searching on Taranaki she never gave up. That is until her health did. Retirement was short and she passed away as Whaia was just coming of age.

JANE DOVE photography

Whaia; meaning ”to be searched for “and a phonetic reference to our Maunga of Ice, Wind and Fire on Ruapehu. Lean and keen were his obvious attributes. His parents were a Labrador and a Collie; he is physically a skinny Lab with a Border Collie attitude. Whaia is the epitome of “Play and Prey Drive”. If it moves he’ll chase it or if it has a scent he’ll find it. Training is a pleasure. It took time teaching him the boundaries. For all that he learnt fast. I don’t recall teaching him to actually queue up at the lift gates, however he has seen the waltz of the chairs and learned the steps in perfect time.


2018 was the year of dog versus car. Sadly he lost the tip of his tail, tip of an ear, punctured a lung and needed a reconstructed foot, less one Metatarsal (foot bone). Most of the following year he wore an external steel scaffold to hold the remaining fragments in place. Whaia became a celebrity at the Massey Vet School, well known and loved by students and surgeons alike. Thank goodness for the insurance we thought, until we realised the bill was coming in at 10k above the covered amount. We were a trifle naive. Thankfully our old friend Ian Goodison came to the rescue in the form of a Give-a-Little fundraiser. With that and the additional donations from RAL and RARO we managed to cover the shortfall. Through the generosity of strangers and friends, Whaia has been back on the snowy slopes for the last 2 years. He’s slowing down some, so it’s time to start working on a replacement. At the time of writing this I believe I may have found one. Turoa is unusual in having two glaciers in our slack country, only minutes from the top chairlift. Regardless of the conditions or warnings some of our public will push out into the unknown seeking freshies and hero status at the bar. While we haven’t had to dig any one from the debris, our teams have been deployed to search many slides size 2-4 to happily call them clear. The best result. Dog Vs Car. It still gives me chills thinking about that moment so I won’t dwell on it. However, I have given a lot of time to contemplating the wisdom of using similar sounding commands, such as ‘Go’ and ‘No’, and the consequences of a mixed message. While most of our operational assessments are held in the SHPG near Cardrona, occasionally we have enough teams to warrant one on the North Island. One such year I was preparing to be assessed with Ice. The assessors were busy setting the site and I was nervously passing the final 15 minutes till kick off. I was waiting at a snow gun station and noticed the fence around a buried sump had fallen down in an ice storm. To pass the time I knelt down to retrieve it. I’d reached out and pulled a stake from the surface, however the stake was tied to another toppling me head first. The surface was a centimetre of ice over the melted out sump. I had visions of impaling myself on a valve spike as I fell a metre


JANE DOVE photography

into the oddly dry sump floor. Fortunately the valves were neatly to one side but it took some wild leg thrashing to get back out. I think the remaining 5 minutes were spent controlling my breathing and heart rate. Since starting with Bess we have seen a number of great Dog teams on Ruapehu. Currently at Turoa, besides myself and Whaia, we have Toby O’hara with Ralph, another veteran team. The year Whaia was out due to injury Toby was generous in letting me borrow Ralph to achieve Dual Operational status - something that does not happen often. This helped us cover our area with more confidence over the remaining winter. We made good use of this setup the following year while we were both on a remote search clearing a human triggered avalanche. I’d arrived first and while Toby was still some distance off, Ralph bounded up and we began the search together. Thanks Toby. Presently, Whakapapa has 2 promising teams led by Blair Watson and Lisa Jaggi. So, thankfully the dog story continues at Ruapehu.I have thrived being an Operational Search Dog Handler over the past 20yrs, with a string of fine dogs making me look better than I am. Hopefully…there are more to come.

Using Satellites for Detecting Avalanches: Potential Application for New Zealand Zach Keskinen *1,2, Jordy Hendrikx1, Markus Eckerstorfer3,4, Karl Birkeland5,1 1 Snow and Avalanche Lab, Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, P.O Box 173480, Bozeman, MT, 59717, USA 2 Cryogars, Department of Geoscience, Boise State University, 1295 University Drive, Boise, ID, 83706, USA 3 Regional Climate Lab., Climate Department, NORCE Norwegian Research Centre, N-5838 Bergen, Norway 4 Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, N-5007 Bergen, Norway 5 U.S.D.A. Forest Service National Avalanche Center, Bozeman, MT, USA * Corresponding Author:

Introduction The need for comprehensive, real-time data about avalanches is a problem known to every forecaster and ski guide blearily toggling between the few avalanche observations from the last storm. Knowledge about the number and distribution of avalanches is our most reliable “bulls-eye” data on instability in our mountain snowpacks. However, these data are typically limited to field observations, which are focused in the most popular locations and times and seldom provide information for our entire area of concern. Recent research in satellite-based avalanche detection has developed new techniques that have the potential to provide valuable supplements to those field reports. An exciting satellite sensor currently being explored to provide avalanche detections is Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). These sensors use microwaves actively emitted towards the ground and measure the phase and intensity of the returning energy to learn about surface conditions. SAR systems do not require sunlight and have minimal interactions with clouds and precipitation, allowing data collection during cloudy weather, large storms, at night, and in areas affected by polar darkness.

How do SAR sensors identify avalanches? The incoming microwave energy from the SAR sensors interacts with the ice crystals of the snowpack. Regions with deeper or denser snowpacks interact to a greater degree returning more energy (i.e. backscatter) to the sensor relative to shallower regions. The increased volume and density of avalanche debris relative to regions of undisturbed snow significantly increases this returning energy. By comparing SAR images taken before and after an avalanche cycle we can identify avalanche runout zones with significant increases in backscatter to identify avalanche debris. We usually use RGB composites of images to identify increased backscatter with regions appearing green corresponding to increased backscatter and decreased backscatter appearing purple (Figure 1). Research on this technique has been occurring since the early 2000s (Wiesmann et al., 2001), but the launch of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Sentinel-1 satellite constellation in 2014 increased the number of available images and advancement of the research. Sentinel-1 is a pair of polar orbiting SAR satellites that provide free SAR imagery of the whole world at least every 12 days and down to daily imagery near the poles. This freely available imagery has allowed for continual monitoring and easy access to imagery for avalanche researchers.

Figure 1: Reference, activity, and RGB composite images for (a) two and (b) one field reported avalanches in the Bridger Teton Avalanche Center region in Wyoming, USA. Red dots show the field reported crown locations, polygons represent the avalanche debris detection. Temporal change analysis compares the reference image to the activity image to identify increased backscatter areas.


How well does it work? A 2019 comparison in Northern Norway of 243 field reported avalanches resulted in an overall detection rate of 77.3%, and a 100% detection rate for avalanches larger than D3 (Eckerstorfer et al., 2019). Importantly these avalanches were 90%+ wet slab avalanches due to the maritime snow climate of Norway. To investigate the detection rates for exclusively dry slabs we investigated SAR detections in the transitional snow climates of Utah and Wyoming using data from the Utah Department of Transportation and the Bridger Teton Avalanche Center. Analyzing these data, we were able to detect around half of the field reported avalanches and 65% of avalanches D3+. While these finding suggest that we will capture a more limited subset of avalanche occurrences in continental and transitional snow climates compared to a maritime snow climate, these detections will be spatially extensive and consistent. In the coming years these detections could be a valuable supplement for avalanche practitioners to the existing field observations. In addition to the overall detection rates, we also investigated topographic and SAR-specific characteristics of avalanche paths that resulted in increased detection rates. We found that longer avalanche path lengths, steeper path angles, increased local incidence angle (angle between the incoming energy and normal to the ground surface), and fewer days between the avalanche occurrence and when Sentinel-1 next passed over were all linked to improved detection rates. For more details see Keskinen, (2021).

Potential application for New Zealand? These factors along with the improved detection rates of wet avalanches suggest that this approach may work well in many areas in New Zealand [Ed. See Smith et. al. next page; NZAD 3, pg. 8081], especially given the predominately maritime snow climate, large relief, and long avalanche paths. It may also work well for large storm cycles, especially those dominated by rain on snow and wet slabs. Given the size of the events most reliably detected (i.e. most events ≥ D2) this will be of greatest value for forecasting in large backcountry forecasting regions with difficult access, and more limited observations across the whole region (e.g. Fiordland, Wanaka, Aoraki/Mt Cook, Arthur’s Pass and Nelson Lakes). Furthermore, NZ’s latitude means that Sentinel-1 satellites pass over the region approximately every 2-3 days resulting in a reasonable revisit interval.

Outlook Research into this technique is still advancing rapidly and the launch of future sensors and ancillary data are likely to improve our detection ability in the coming years. The launching of the NISAR satellite by NASA and the Indian Space Research Organization will provide more data to improve SAR detections. Other SAR satellites already in orbit or to be launched soon are the ESA’s ROSE-L, ICEYE, and Capella’s X-SAR. In addition to these new SAR sensors there is also important work ongoing to automate these avalanche detections and provide near real-time avalanche distribution information to forecasters and the public. An operational “beta-version” was tested during the 2020-21 northern hemisphere winter for several avalanche forecasting centers in the Western USA, where near-real time maps of avalanche detections, combined with aspect and elevation summaries were provided to regional backcountry avalanche forecasters.

NIWA Environmental Technician Hamish Sutton doing maintenance work on the Upper Rakaia Snow and Ice station. Image: Alec Dempster, NIWA.

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IMachine learning techniques are currently able to identify avalanche debris pixels in Sentinel-1 imagery and achieve F1scores (a measure of accuracy and false detection rates) of 66% (Bianchi et al., 2021). Future automation of SAR detections and incorporation of new SAR sensors will lead to improvements in the detection rates and increase the value of, and potential applications of, using satellite-based techniques to record avalanche activity for avalanche professionals and forecasters. Given New Zealand’s large and unpopulated forecasting regions, frequent winter storms, and access challenges, this technique may provide a means to collect more spatially extensive avalanche data in the future and help regional forecasters.

References Bianchi, F.M., Grahn, J., Eckerstorfer, M., Malnes, E., Vickers, H., 2021. Snow avalanche segmentation in SAR images with Fully Convolutional Neural Networks. IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing 14, 75–82. Eckerstorfer, M., Vickers, H., Malnes, E., Grahn, J., 2019. NearReal Time Automatic Snow Avalanche Activity Monitoring System Using Sentinel-1 SAR Data in Norway. Remote Sensing 11, 2863. Keskinen, Z., 2021. Snow Avalanche Identifications Using Sentinel-1: Detection Rates and Controlling Factors. Masters Thesis, Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University. 221pp. Wiesmann, A., Wegmuller, U., Honikel, M., Strozzi, T., Werner, C.L., 2001. Potential and methodology of satellite based SAR for hazard mapping, in: IGARSS 2001. Scanning the Present and Resolving the Future. Proceedings. IEEE 2001 International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (Cat. No.01CH37217). Presented at the IGARSS 2001. Scanning the Present and Resolving the Future. Proceedings. IEEE 2001 International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (Cat. No.01CH37217), pp. 3262–3264 vol.7.

Manual mapping of snow avalanche debris in the Hooker Valley using state-of-the-art VENµS satellite imagery Anna Smith1, Nicolas Cullen1, Aubrey Miller2 and Pascal Sirguey2 1School of Geography, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand 2National School of Surveying, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand

Understanding snow avalanche behaviour is vital for hazard management, especially in areas with human activity. However, one challenge we face is building accurate records of their frequency and magnitude, which if achieved can provide information on their probability and impact over longer time scales. One approach to build these records is to use satellite imagery, which allows safe, remote and regular observations of avalanches to be obtained and processed using Geographic Information Science (GIS) processing tools. There are always trade-offs between spatial and temporal resolution when using satellite imagery, and careful consideration about the purpose of the study must always be made when choosing observational data to use. To examine in detail the avalanche activity in the Hooker Valley in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, optical visible and near-infrared satellite imagery from the VENµS sensor over a 2.5-year period (November 2017 – July 2020) was used to create a unique avalanche database as part of an Honours project at the University of Otago. The Vegetation and Environment monitoring on a New Micro-Satellite (VENμS) is a satellite jointly built by the Israeli Space Agency (ISA) and Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES). VENμS has been used to otbain images in 12 spectral bands at high spatial and temporal resolution (5-10 m every 2 days) for more than 100 areas of interest around the globe, including two sites enrolled by the University of Otago to examine the variability of seasonal snow, including avalanche activity, and glacier dynamics in the Southern Alps. Using 188 high spatial and temporal resolution VENμS images, a total of 355 polygons of avalanche debris were manually mapped using GIS software, leading to 202 individual avalanche events being documented in the Hooker Valley. Avalanches were found to occur mostly between June and November, peaking in August. A range of attributes were calculated or assigned to each polygon of avalanche debris identified, enabling a detailed assessment of avalanche activity. This unique avalanche database has provided the platform for a range of analyses and will support the long-term monitoring of avalanche activity in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park.

Figure 1 – Example 5m resolution VeNUS satellite image from 22/08/2019 depicting avalanche debris reaching Hooker Lake in Hayter Stream and Stewart Stream mapped as polygons (pink lines). The top panel is a true colour image. The bottom panel is a false colour image visualising the near-infrared spectral information. Note the older debris visible in Stewart Stream as it enters the lake.

the avalanche forecast for the region was during these events. The meteorological conditions leading to the avalanches large enough to breach the lake are also being examined. We hope our efforts to build a more coherent picture of the atmospheric controls on these “breaching” events will aid avalanche forecasting and hazard management efforts in the future. If you are interested in learning more about this specific project feel free to email Anna Smith ( or other members of the Mountain Research Centre (MRC). We also encourage you to visit the MRC website to see the other products of the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park that have been generated using the VENμS imagery at this link: notago/venus.

A key focus of the current research is to identify the number of avalanche events breaching Hooker Lake, which presents a new hazard to recreationalists in the valley as the Hooker Glacier continues to recede, and assess what


cragroysten N-44.539734 E168.761372 ELEVATION: 2100 photo courtesy of: harris mountains heli-ski We had forecast the lingering PWL but did not think it would be a player without a significant step down event within the HST due to the bridging strength of the upper pack and the quite robust MFcr layer above the weakness. However, watching the avalanche release and looking along the crown wall, there appeared to have been no step-down event and it would appear that the PWL released remotely with the weight of the aircraft. We were 50 m from the nearest portion of the crown wall which ranged from 120-180cm in height. It was gratifying that the safe line we had identified in our morning run discussion was not affected by the event and we skied the slope as planned. - Hugh Barnard



Head Shots!


New science is changing the way we look at concussion in NZ Dr. Robin Barraclough, RNZCGP, NZSFMM Mohammad Ali, one of the greatest sportsmen of all time, first competed in the 1960 Rome Olympics at 18 years old, and won a gold medal. He later went on to famously win the world heavy weight boxing championship on three separate occasions. Ali retired from professional boxing in 1980 and by 1984 had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Syndrome, a form of dementia, aged only 46. Twelve years later he was invited to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia where he struggled to walk and lift the torch to light the Olympic flame - his dementia had become so advanced. Estimates suggest that Ali had sustained around 200,000 punches over his career with repeated concussions that lead to long term brain damage and his early onset dementia. Mohammed Ali is not an isolated case. Here in New Zealand many former high profile Rugby players have succumbed to early onset dementia too. This pattern of repeated knocks to the head is now so common there is a name for the disorder: Chronic Traumatic Encepahlomyelopathy, or CTE for short. Ali’s story is one that has been repeated in hundreds of other sports men and women, who have suffered for the sport they love. It's the reason why we now view concussion much more seriously than we did in years gone by. And it’s not just long term, in the short term concussion can lead to: Costs to the health service. Lost days of work / productivity. Other health issues including; depression, anxiety and substance misuse. To understand concussion, it is also helpful to know a bit of biology: The brain has the consistency of a squishy ball of mozzarella cheese and weighs around 1 to 1.5kg. It contains approximately 100 billion nerve cells with each cell connecting to around 7000 other nerve cells producing several hundred trillion microscopic connections. All this delicate connectivity somehow creates our ‘consciousness’. The whole thing is encased in a ridged box, or skull, for its protection. However, if you shake it, you break it ….

Brain Injuries Given how delicate the brain is, injuries can occur in a number of ways. PRIMARY injuries can occur as a direct consequence of traumatic incident. This can either be from direct force, fracturing or bruising the skull. If severe enough, this may lead to internal bleeding inside the skull compressing and damaging the brains delicate nerve cells. The main purpose of helmets, whether for winter sports, climbing or mountain biking is to prevent this kind of injury. Another primary way that brain injury can happen involves indirect force or inertia. It’s created when either rapid acceleration or deceleration of the head occurs. This can lead to the soft brain colliding with the hard inner of the skull essentially bruising it. If the forces are great enough the delicate nerve connections will ‘shear’ and get torn apart too. An example of this kind of indirect injury might be a car crash where you've been restrained by the seatbelt and airbag. Your head hasn't hit anything solid but the rapid deceleration of the car has shaken your head violently forwards and then backwards slamming your brain against the inside of your skull, leaving you ‘foggy’ and often with a severe headache at the back of your head. Unfortunately the damage does not stop there. SECONDARY traumatic brain injury occurs in the minutes, hours and days after the knock, commonly determining the ultimate ‘outcome’. Damaged nerve cells have a much greater




requirement for glucose and oxygen because of the inflammation and swelling caused by the injury. Any interruption to the supply of nutrients or the process of repair will lead to a much greater level of injury down the line. Hence why getting another knock to the head, or a skinful of beer is such a bad idea if the brain hasn't fully repaired itself from the last smash.

What Actually Is a Concussion? There are lots of ways of defining concussion but for our purposes, Sports Related Concussion (SRC) is the most useful definition. Features that all SRCs have in common include:

IF IN DOUBT SIT OUT. Especially if this involves a child or adolescent. I would also advise documenting all details. Including what advice has been given to the skier or rider and what if any interventions were done (e.g. placed in the recovery position, given paracetamol etc).For the patient and the patrollers sake this record should be kept somewhere safe for audit purposes. I would suggest printing off a copy of the SCRT 5 and laminating it and keeping it somewhere handy for use on or off-piste.

Management of Concussion

Some kind of blow to head or other part of body. Rapid onset of impairment in brain functioning, which might evolve over hours to minutes. The signs and symptoms rarely show any physical injury that can be detected on standard Computer Tomography (CT) brain scanning. SRC results in a range of signs and symptoms that may, or may not involve a loss of consciousness (around 80-90% don’t). Resolution of the signs and symptoms follows a sequential course (usually better by 14 days). In some cases the symptoms may be prolonged (dragging on for months), which tends to be more common in females. SYMPTOMS - what you feel and what you say, e.g. headache, fogginess, “Where am I?”. SIGNS - what others notice, e.g. unable to walk, loss of consciousness, dazed or vacant stare etc … Some signs & symptoms can be much more subtle; such as the feeling of fatigue, reduced or poor concentration, impairment in short term memory, or even mood changes. As previously stated, they can last only a few hours for some people and for days and weeks or longer for others. Interestingly everybody will end up with a set of symptoms that is unique to them.

Recognising Concussion Recognising the signs and symptoms unique for each person is often the trickiest bit. To make it easier and more standardised there are now protocols to help recognise an athlete, in this case a skier or rider who has sustained a concussion. The most widely respected and used device is the Sports Concussion Recognition Tool, (SCRT 5 or CRT 5; see previous page). It was developed in conjunction with many of the world governing bodies of sport. It is designed to assist non-medically trained individuals to recognise the signs and symptoms of possible sport-related concussion and provides guidance for removing an athlete from play/sport and when to seek medical attention. With practice it can be completed in less than 30 seconds anywhere on the field of play / mountain. If there are red flags for concussion present, St. John needs to be called immediately. These patients need to be stabilised and transported to hospital for further assessment. If no red flags are found but a failure at steps two, three or four of the tool occurs it means that concussion is likely. Just like in rugby, the player should be taken off the field of play, a concussed skier or rider should be assisted off the slopes by the easiest route, advised that they should not continue to participate for the rest of that day and told that they need to seek medical attention before restarting the sport. They should be advised not to drive and ideally they should be supervised by a friend or family member and not left alone for the next 4-6 hours post injury. They should avoid alcohol and caffeine while they continue to suffer concussion symptoms.


Fortunately most concussions self-resolve after a few days and the majority inside of two weeks. For those with severe symptoms or those whose symptoms drag on for longer than two weeks, having a concussion can be hugely debilitating. There is a formal pathway to get them help but getting that help can, to some extent, depend on where you live in New Zealand. Firstly, the sufferer needs to obtain a formal medical diagnosis, either from the Emergency Department, or from their GP. Once the concussion has formally been logged with ACC some funding and resources will follow. This might include time-off of work or reduced duties while the patient is recovering. It might also involve a referral to specialised concussion services. These services formally assess the level of impairment caused by the concussion and then design plans for a graded return to work or activity, with input from occupational therapists, physiotherapists and sometimes clinical psychologists. Studies show that recovery is helped by gentle exercise. Thus, there is no reason why those with concussion cannot stay fit. They just have to do exercise in a way that means they can’t possible reinjure their head until they are free of symptoms. There is also increasing evidence that a poor diet can significantly impair the repairing of damaged nerve cells. Foods that trigger inflammation in the body, such as refined sugars (high fructose corn syrup) found in soft drinks and lollies, as well as trans fats found in margarine and processed foods, and any refined carbs that lack fibre. Excess alcohol and processed meats should be reduced or avoided as well.

The Future Round the corner are a couple of developments that will in some ways be game changers in the diagnosis of concussion. Many ski helmets already come with ‘slip plane technology’ (MultiDirectional Impact Protection Systems or MIPS) taken from the world of cycling which take a substantial amount of the force out of an impact. New helmet technology is beginning to include impact detection sensors, which measure the strength and direction of the G-forces involved. This data is processed via an algorithm which triggers an alert if the forces correlate with those causing a head injury. The sensor then puts out the alert via bluetooth (and your mobile) to GPS locate the wearer via a text to your chosen emergency contacts. These types of sensors are just beginning to be found in ski and cycling helmets. The "holy grail" in concussion detection are biomarkers. Many researchers, as well as companies, have been working for years to develop blood or saliva tests which reveal when damage to the brain has occurred. Some of these tests are now at the trial stage including non-invasive saliva testing on elite rugby players. These trials are being done pitch-side by staff with minimal training giving rapid results. If tests like this can be shown to be accurate then the potential applications across healthcare, the military, and a wide range of sports including winter ones will be enormous.

Girsberger Mountain Rescue Technology Rescue Equipment Made with Excellence

Helicopter Antenna System 457 kHz The professional system HAS457-2 provides a very fast search by helicopter for persons who have been buried in an avalanche provided that the persons are carrying an avalanche transceiver. The primary use is with large avalanches in case of danger of secondary avalanches or other objective dangers. The system is also very advantageous for searching for missing persons on any kind of terrain such as avalanches, crevasses, forests, gorges or other inaccessible areas. The system features an omnidirectional antenna that will receive signals from transceivers from all directions with equal sensitivity. For performing a search the antenna is suspended a few meters below the helicopter in order to avoid any interference from the electromagnetic signals emanated by the helicopter. For searching a signal the helicopter flies over the search area according to procedures as specified. The ensuing coarse search uses the classical method of bracketing on two orthogonal axes. Once a transceiver has been located the spot is marked with a flag (heavy object with marker band attached) and a rescuer is lowered by means of the winch or exits to ground for performing a fine search. The HAS457-2 is only used temporarily, there is no need for permanent installation or modifications to the helicopter. The system must be stored in the helicopter during the winter season. The complete system, ready for use, is stored in a special bag and can be deployed within a very short time.

Gary Dickson, IFMGA mountain guide, Wanaka Alpine Cliff Rescue team leader, New Zealand. New Zealand recently has purchased the HAS457-2 for our winter SAR responses. This installs easily (quick and made so you can't plug it in wrong) into our B2 and B3 squirrel Eurocopters that we use for SAR. Our SAR pilots and crew has found it very straight forward to search with and appreciate the increase in safety (can fly higher above the snow surface) and wider search width that the unit brings. The LED light bar and audible sound integrated through the helicopter intercom system is intuitive for us who are very familiar with analogue transceiver methods. It's compact and the all-in-one design is great - it sits hanging on the hangar wall ready to deploy. Well done Marcel for developing this unit!


The ATC Avalanche Training Center A stationary system for training transceiver and probe search, the system has been proven for a long time and was overhauled completely in the year 2015. Some innovative solutions provided decisive advantages to the users and to the operators. The system can simulate from six to sixteen transceivers. The transmitters that are buried in the search area emit signals that are exactly equal to the signals from real avalanche transceivers. At the control unit, the remotely controlled transmitters can be selected at random (standard mode) or individually (expert mode). This allows for training simple as well as complex (multiple burials) burial situations. The transmitters will provide automatic feedback upon a probe hit. A probe hit on the probing surface of a transmitter is indicated at the control unit and signaled acoustically. The search times for every transmitter are also indicated. The control unit incorporates a counter for the number of exercises that can be read out at any time. The entire system is equipped with standard batteries for autonomous operation throughout a winter season. No mains supply required.


Corsin Clopath, Director Rescue Service Laax, Switzerland. Since the winter of 2015/2016 the ATC with 10 transmitters is in operaton and publicly accessible in the ski area of Laax. You can find the ATC on the plateau Plaun, where we have found an ideal and easily accessible location. The ATC is very easy to use, works perfectly and offers very good opportunities for everyone to train the use of avalanche beacons and to improve their skills. The ATC is very attractive for mountain sports schools, guests and even private winter sports enthusiasts, who are all fascinated with the facility. In the expert mode, any scenario can be simulated for professionals, such as our patrollers, avalanche dog handlers of the Swiss Alpine Rescue or mountain guides. A big advantage of the facility is certainly that you can train at any time without long preparation, which also encourages people to train more regularly. A big thank you to Marcel and Felice for the always very good support.

Mobile LVS Training-System

Dieter Kotlaba, Head of Hardware Ortovox, Germany.

The RTX457 transceiver training system is a mobile system for training transceiver and probe search. It is best suited for training as well as for transceiver tests or winter sport events. The system has been proven for a long time and has been overhauled completely in the year 2015. Some innovative solutions provide ease of use and instant readiness.

For me the RTX457 is the most sophisticated and userfriendly training system for avalanche beacon search on the market. For both beginners and professional teams, it offers all the possibilities, but remains easy to use. The RTX457 is a durable and efficient system on which you can definitely rely!

The system can be used with four to six transmitters. The transmitters emit exactly the same signals as do standard avalanche transceivers. The remote control allows for turning individual transmitters on and off and for seeing their transmit pattern. In addition to the standard mode, there is an expert mode. Modes can be alternated at anytime. For standard mode, all transmitters are set up with a pattern that provides a short (70 to 120 m/s) pulse duration. This corresponds to most of the devices that are currently on the market. For expert mode, all transmitters are set up with a pattern that provides a long (240 to 320 m/s) pulse duration. This corresponds to older devices. This allows for simulating simple and complex burial scenarios, including multiple burials. Probe hits on the buried transmitters will be indicated on the remote control.


LVS Checkpoint The unique and versatile beacon checkpoint CP2011 provides more safety for backcountry skiers or free-riders. It detects, signals and registers the beacon when passing by or when leaving marked trails, freeride points or at other entry points to the world of deep snow. Another purpose is to improve the awareness for complete and reliable rescue equipment. The CP2011 ascertains that every avalanche beacon is in transmit mode. The motion sensor options open up new possibilities. The CP2011becomes an autonomous person counting device. The number of persons not equipped with a beacon can be registered separately. The data can be read out via a built-in USB interface. It provides detailed information, including date and time, about the use of a route or a freeride area.


DI Dr. Dieter Stöhr, Office of the Tyrolean Provincial Government, Austria. The Landscape Service of the Province of Tyrol has been using the avalanche transceiver checkpoints for years in popular ski touring areas to increase safety and measure the frequency of ski mountaineers. In addition, we also use the IR sensor of the avalanche transceiver checkpoints for frequency measurement on MTB single trails, via ferrata and hiking trails to evaluate the success of the recreational facilities cofinanced by the Province of Tyrol.

Girsberger Elektronik AG is a family owned business based in Switzerland and was founded in 1966 by Hans Girsberger. For over 10 years the company has been managed in it's third generation by Marcel Würgler. Marcel is passionate about avalanche rescue technology and always has the goal of saving lives in mind. Our vision is to sensitise winter sports enthusiasts to avalanche hazards, to offer them the opportunity to familiarize themselves with our products and with their personal avalanche emergency equipment, and to handle it in case of emergency in order to save lives. Milestones include continuing to improve different generations of avalanche transceivers, avalanche transceiver training systems and helicopter-based search systems for locating avalanche victims and developing new ideas to provide our customers with constant safety in the mountains. Thanks to Marcel Würgler's consistent focus and innovative solutions in close cooperation with national & international mountain rescue specialists, Girsberger Elektronik AG is now the world's leading avalanche and mountain rescue technology specialist. Marcel Würgler

An important part of the company is Felicie Brunner who takes care of all distribution with many innovative ideas and can thus implement her graphic knowledge very well. Social media posts, renewal and improvement of the website as well as designing flyers are on the daily schedule of Marcel Würgler's wife.

Schönfeld. Without them we would not have been able to celebrate such a success. Rolf is not only our representative in Australia but is also a good family friend to whom we owe a lot.

Among the customers and partners at home and abroad are the well-known helicopter organisations such as Rega, Air ZermaU, ÖAMTC and Wanaka SAR as well as these avalanche specialist companies: Ortovox , Arva , BCA and Mammut.

Our training products and safety concepts can be found internationally at ski resorts, mountain railroads, mountain rescue organisations as well as in various militaries. Through proper and multiple trainings of mountain rescuers and ski patrol our users are very well prepared for critical situations in the mountains.

One of the most important collaborations for us is with the Mountain Safety Collective (MSC) from Australia. Through this cooperation we can proudly say that the first ATC in Australia comes from our company. A big thank you goes to Narelle 'Nez' Wauers and Rolf

All our products are processed with high-quality and sustainable materials and manufactured in small series by our small independent family business 100% in Switzerland. We save countless lives through the promotion and use of our products.


The Risk of Ski Results from an International Survey Bruce Jamieson1, Karl Birkeland2, Mark Vesely3, Ilya Storm, John Stimberis4 1, Snowline Associates Ltd. 2 USDA Forest Service National Avalanche Center 3 6Point Engineering 4 Washington State Department of Transportation This article has first appeared in the Canadian Avalanche Journal .

In avalanche operations, ski cutting involves an avalanche practitioner attempting to trigger an avalanche by skiing (or snowboarding) across the top of a slope. It is a basic skill that is widely used by avalanche practitioners. One of the competencies in the Canadian Avalanche Association’s 2015 draft competency profile is “artificial triggering (excluding the use of explosives).” Some recreationists ski cut slopes, but this paper pertains exclusively to ski cutting by avalanche practitioners at work. There are two types of ski cutting: test skiing to determine if snow is unstable, and mitigation to remove unstable snow before avalanches get bigger or before less skilled people (e.g. clients) get to the specific slopes. Looking at avalanche operations across North America, the number of slopes ski cut for mitigation in a winter far exceeds the number of slopes test skied. To address the wide differences in the perceived risk of injury during ski cutting, we conducted a quantitative survey that helped practitioners estimate the number of ski cuts they performed over many winters and asked them to recall near misses and three classes of injuries. Over 150 practitioners completed the survey with a combined total of almost 1.5 million ski cuts. When the survey results are scaled to one million ski cuts, about 23 resulted in light duty, seven resulted in missed work, and three resulted in career-ending injuries. Practitioners at ski areas (ski patrollers) had lower risk for the same number of ski cuts than mechanized ski guides.

Advantages of ski cutting: Provides high strength and high weight evidence of snow instability, which is key information for avalanche forecasting operations. Many slopes ski cut but not triggered is an indicator of stability and can be of high weight if many representative slopes are ski cut. Intentional ski testing for unstable snow high on a slope is lower risk than inadvertently triggering unstable snow lower on the slopes. Removes unstable snow before the avalanches get bigger during storms or before less skilled people get to the slopes. More effective for triggering for loose wet snow avalanches than explosives.


Faster than explosives when dealing with many start zones if only small avalanches are expected. Can be efficiently used in combination with explosive mitigation, i.e. ski cutting for the smaller or less severe slopes and explosives for the more severe slopes. Also, practitioners can remove small pockets of unstable snow that remain after explosive mitigation. Cost effective when there are many start zones and/or practitioners with related skills (e.g. guiding, first aid, skiing) who are consistently on site. Practitioners can learn about the spatial characteristics of unstable snow, i.e. trigger points which are relevant to placing explosives, as well as snowpack variations over terrain that are relevant to avalanche release and route selection. Practitioners can also learn about the transient nature of snow instability, including storm slabs. This knowledge about the spatial and temporal characteristics of unstable snow is difficult to learn in the classroom.

Cutting Ski Patrol performing a ski cut.

Disadvantages of ski cutting:

Information Centre. There has been one in Canada in the same time period, according to the CAA and Avalanche Canada.

People can be injured and potentially killed while ski cutting. The objectives of this study are: For operations with many small slopes and a few large slopes (or slopes with terrain traps), the efficiency of ski cutting can deter the use of lower risk methods of avalanche mitigation, such as explosives, on more serious slopes. The risk for a particular ski cut cannot always be determined in advance (e.g. on a day when ski cutting many shallow slabs resulting in D1 avalanches, practitioners infrequently trigger slabs that are deeper than expected, resulting in larger avalanches). A small number of ski cuts that do not trigger avalanches can be misleading, i.e. they do not provide high weight evidence of stability, especially for deeper weak layers. There have been three fatalities in the U.S. since 1980 during ski cutting, according to records kept by the Colorado Avalanche

To quantitatively estimate the rate of near misses and injuries from ski cutting and hence inform policies, practices, decisions, and discussions about ski cutting. To quantitatively estimate the rate of triggering and being caught while ski cutting by avalanche size (D-scale; McClung and Schaerer, 2006) This article does not identify practices to minimize risk while ski cutting. However, Stimberis (2008, 2018) and Wilbour (1986) identify low-risk practices for ski cutting. Richmond (1994) and Vesely (2014) identify patterns in near-misses and injurious ski cuts. This article was shortened for the Canadian Avalanche Journal. The complete version is available at:


Photo: B. Jamieson Figure 1: A small dry slab avalanche triggered by a ski cut.

The Survey The links to the introductory video and survey were sent to avalanche practitioners through associations in the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand. Since the wording discouraged potential respondents who do limited ski cutting, the survey results better represent practitioners who frequently ski cut slopes. The survey distinguished between five types of avalanche work (sectors): Lift-based ski areas (i.e. ski patrolling), mechanized ski guiding, non-mechanized ski guiding, highways and resource industries, backcountry forecasting (for public avalanche warnings), and other types of avalanche work. Each respondent estimated their ski cuts and injuries for one or two career phases in which they did the most ski cutting. Each phase was for one or more winters in a specified sector. For each phase,

respondents were asked to recall and estimate their average number of ski cuts per winter, number of winters, and the number of their near misses and injuries. As is common for analyzing the risk to workers, respondents were asked about four types of events: A near miss is an unplanned event that did not result in injury, illness, or damage, but had the potential to do so. Light duty refers to a period of one or more days in which the injured worker performs physically less demanding work. Missed work refers to a period of one or more days in which the injured worker is unemployed. End of career typically refers to a career-ending injury. Since the survey allows for a second career phase, e.g. forecasting for a highways avalanche program after working as a ski patroller, this type of injury is referred to as end of career phase.

Number of ski cuts per winter per respondent



No. of Career Phases (all respondents)

Ski Areas


Mechanized Ski Guiding Non-Mechanized Ski Guiding

No. of Ski Cuts (all respondents)






















Highways and Resource Industry







Backcountry Forecasting














All Sectors







Table 1 shows the number of career phases and number of ski cuts per winter and total for the different sectors.

Number of near-misses and injuries


No. of Career Phases

No. of Ski Cuts

Near Miss

Light Duty

Missed Work

End Career Phase

Ski Areas







Mechanized Ski Guiding







Table 2: Summary of survey responses including near misses and injuries by sector

Results and discussion Out of 161 respondents, 50 had complete answers for a second career phase, giving a total of 211 career phases of data for analysis. The career phases ranged in length from one to 38 winters, with an average of 11 and a median of nine. Since many probabilities in this study are small numbers, we report frequencies as 'n' events per million ski cuts. Our analysis focused on ski areas and ski guiding because other sectors lacked sufficient data.

Risk to practitioners: Near miss and injury rates from ski cutting The number of reported near misses and injuries for ski areas and mechanized guiding are presented in Table 2. Only seven and four injuries resulted in missed work or ended career phases, respectively, so interpretations and extrapolations based on such limited data for serious injuries should be made with caution.

Figure 2 shows the injury rate for mechanized ski guides per million ski cuts is approximately 2.5 times the rate for ski area practitioners. This is may be due to: Ski area practitioners having better options for explosive use on more serious slopes or when the slabs are thicker. The slopes ski area practitioners cut are often more compacted, reducing the frequency of deeper than expected avalanches. The technique – including start and stop locations – for specific slopes are more often pre-established and mentored for ski areas. The history of specific slopes and ski cuts is better documented at ski areas allowing for more informed slope-specific decisions. Ski area practitioners may have a long-prescribed list of slopes to ski cut when there is a small accumulation of new snow overnight (e.g. 5 cm), and the risk is very low.

Figure 2: Risk (rate of near misses and injuries) per million ski cuts for ski areas and mechanized guiding. The bases of the triangles are scaled by the total injury rate (excluding near misses) for the sector as shown in Table 3.


For ski areas and mechanized ski guiding, the average frequency of near misses and injuries per winter can be estimated from Table 2 and the estimated number of ski cuts per winter in Table 1. However, the reciprocal of average frequency (average number of winters per near miss or injury) is a more intuitive way of comparing infrequent events. Table 3 and Figure 3 show the average winters per near miss or injury for these two sectors. Table 3 shows the average winters per event increases with the seriousness of the injury. Also, the average winters per injury for mechanized ski guiding are less than for ski area practitioners because mechanized ski guides reported more frequent injuries.


Near Miss

Light Duty

Ski Areas



Mechanized Guiding



Missed Work

902 270

The average number of winters per injury within an operation can be roughly estimated by dividing the numbers in Table 4 by the typical number of practitioners engaged with ski cutting. For example, for an operation with 50 practitioners, the average winters per ski cutting injury resulting in light duty would be 142/50 ≈ 3 years for a ski area and 90/50 ≈ 2 years for a mechanized guiding operation. Avalanche operations can use this approach to check if their rate of near misses and injuries are roughly comparable to those in this study. However, the duration of near miss and injury records should preferably be at least three times as long as the average number of winters per near miss or injury in the comparison (i.e. an average of 10 winters per near miss is best assessed over 30 or more winters).

End Career Phase

Discussion on the risk of death in an avalanche while ski cutting


This survey relied on each respondent’s recollection and hence yielded no data on deaths. However, the probability of a practitioner being killed in an avalanche while ski cutting can be estimated based on U.S. data for the last 40 winters. Greene et al. (2014) estimated there are about 2,800 avalanche practitioners in the United States. Assuming two-thirds ski cut the average number of


Table 3: Average number of winters per near miss or injury for practitioners with the median number of ski cuts per winter from Table 1

Figure 3: Estimated average number of winters per near miss or injury for practitioners with the median number of ski cuts (Table 1). The left axis uses a log scale so that shorter columns, e.g. the average winters per near miss or light duty injury, are clearly displayed.


slopes per winter (Table 1), then there are about 1,000,000 ski cuts per winter in the United States, or 40 million ski cuts over the last 40 years. Since three practitioners have died in avalanches while ski cutting in the U.S., this suggests a probability of death of about 0.08 per million ski cuts. Allowing for uncertainty in the number of ski cuts per winter of half an order of magnitude on either side of this estimate, the range in the probability of death is about 0.02 to 0.2 per million ski cuts. There are physical reasons why the probability of death while ski cutting should be lower than other activities in avalanche terrain. Practitioners performing ski cutting will have a low vulnerability because they are more often caught on skis while high in the start zone (which reduces avalanche mass above – and force on – the practitioner), the ski cutting teams are skilled in companion rescue, and the ski cutting occurs within operations with good rescue capability.

Recommendations We recommend operations keep comprehensive records of ski cutting and any injuries so recurring factors in near misses and injuries can be identified and mitigated.

Association, and Alex Kittrell from HeliSki US for distributing the survey to their members. We would like to thank the Canadian Avalanche Association, the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides, and the Canadian Ski Guides Association for distributing the survey in Canada. Irene Henninger and Doug McCabe provided insights about the similarities in ski cutting practices between the U.S. and New Zealand. Our thanks to Andy Hoyle and the Ski Areas Association of New Zealand (SAANZ) for distributing the survey in New Zealand.

References Greene, E., Jamieson, B., and Logan, S. 2014. Fatal occupational injuries of avalanche workers in North America, Proceedings of the 2014 International Snow Science Workshop. Banff, Alberta, Canada, 293-299. McClung, D.M. and Schaerer, P.A. 2006. The Avalanche Handbook (3rd ed.), The Mountaineers, Seattle, USA.

While some avalanche operations have shared their ski cutting procedures, we recommend procedures be widely shared within sectors so best practices can be established.

Richmond, D. 1994. Repeated mistakes by avalanche professionals. Proceedings of the 1994 International Snow Science Workshop in Snowbird, Utah, USA.

We recommend a study of the risk of ski cutting for the sectors with limited survey responses in this study, specifically non-mechanized ski guiding (ski touring), highways & resource industries, and backcountry forecasting for public avalanche warnings.

Stimberis, J. 2008. Chinook Pass: 25 years on. Proceedings of the 2008 International Snow Science Workshop in Whistler, BC, Canada. Stimberis, J. 2018. Perspectives on ski cutting. Proceedings of the 2018 International Snow Science Workshop in Innsbruck, Austria.

Acknowledgements We recognize the survey was difficult and are grateful to those who completed it. Our thanks to Craig Wilbour, Steve Conger, Mark Klassen, Colin Zacharias, Forest Latimer, Scott Davis, Scott Savage, Mark Grist, John Buffery, Steve Parsons and Bradford White for discussions on ski cutting and/or comments on the draft survey. We would like to thank Dan Kaveney from the American Avalanche Association, Sarah Carpenter from the American Mountain Guides

Vesely, M. 2014. Zen and the art of skier controlled avalanche release – perspectives on key risk indicators in ski cutting. Proceedings of the 2014 International Snow Science Workshop in Banff, Canada. Wilbour, C. 1986. The Chinook Pass avalanche control program. Proceedings of the 1986 International Snow Science Workshop in Lake Tahoe, California, USA.

Further work on ski cutting from Bruce Jamieson Similar content to the longer article in TAR: A focus on risk reduction strategies for recreationists: A toolkit of practices for operations to choose from:


Widespread instability, from basal facets, throughout the northern Chugach Range, Alaska, made for challenging early season conditions for the heli-skiing operators. Numerous D3 and D4 natural slab avalanches were observed on almost all aspects in mid-February, 2020. Photo: Jordy Hendrikx



Resilience Based


Photo: Charlotte Tear

Risk Assessment Achieving a Higher Level of Safety Mikkel Frederiksen and Jacob Taarup-Esbensen Assessing the multitude of risks in alpine environments is often almost impossible due to the inherent unpredictability of the unique context. Realising that threats are ever-changing and dynamic, we allow for more complex but perhaps also more undefinable uncertainties to enter our assessment. It is evident that the complexity of these assessments has given rise to the need for a simple yet accurate risk assessment approach. Resilience Engineering (RE) recognises the possibilities and limitations of dynamic conditions in an organisation. Taarup-Esbensen (2020) developed a model for risk assessments based on assessing the organisation’s resilience rather than on efforts to identify all risks in a given context. Resilience is defined as the organisation’s ability to achieve its goals despite having experienced events that have impacted its critical activities. It may seem strange to use a systems approach that includes a resilience perspective of an organisation to a regular ski trip. However, reliability and higher levels of safety are thought to be achieved by using systematic approaches to risk management that applies to even the smallest of organisations (Taarup-Esbensen, 2020). By applying a RE perspective to risk assessments, it is possible to manage complexity by assessing an organisation’s ability to respond, monitor, learn, and anticipate risks, and in so doing, move away from the flawed frequency and consequences approach. There are several settings in which a RE approach is beneficial, such as organised tours, where individuals have a formal responsibility as a guide, lift operations, maintenance of routes, construction of infrastructure and/or other operations in alpine terrain (Kristensen 2012). The article utilises examples compiled from individual avalanche events to illustrate the usage of a system of resiliencebased risk assessment.

Method To examine the model’s usefulness as a practical tool for tour organisers, we have compiled a single case on an avalanche event. The case is used to create an example that incorporates key findings and illustrates how a resilience-based approach could prove useful as a practical tool for tour guides and operators.

Risk Assessments Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA) published a guideline for planning and operational risk management for common avalanche terrain land-use activities. CAA built their risk management guidelines on top of the internationally recognised ISO 31000 (CAA, 2016; Statham et al., 2016). The assessment provides decision-makers with a clear picture of the risks they face, an estimation of their frequency and impact, and an evaluation as to whether these risks should be prevented, mitigated, or accepted. The risks managed through the decisions that arrive from this assessment is the basis for weighing opportunities and threats against each other. However, several weaknesses exist in the ISO 31000 approach, making it difficult to operationalise (Aven, 2016; Aven et al., 2009; Pate ́-Cornell et al., 2014; Renn et al., 2015). First, historically known risks seen in isolation provide a clear picture of events but offer little context as to how these risks materialise in practice. Often, it is not the individual risk that causes a problem, but rather the combination of different events coinciding or triggered by each other, which the organisation will be called upon to manage (Hollnagel 2016). Second, the assessment of impact can be arbitrary based on a combination of how other similar events have unfolded. Third, the extra layer of risk evaluation does provide some assurance as to how the organisation

An avalanche event at Bear Pass, Britishwill Columbia, captured address theCanada multitude of risks in its with environment but can be a long process. the Geoprevent integrated 42 MP status and event camera. Photo: Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure MoTI




Establishing Context Context (Scope and Situation)

Terrain Identification

Hazard/Risk Assessment

Risk Assessment

Hazard/Risk Assessment

Avalanche Forecasting


Identify Analyse Evaluate

Monitoring and Review

Communication and Consultation


Risk Treatment

Figure 1 The avalanche risk management process aligns under the ISO 31000 structure.

At the same time, contemporary risk assessments don’t consider the capability of individuals or organisations. The lack of focus on skills and capacities is seen as a major flaw from the RE point-ofview, which we will explain further below.

Resilience-based risk assessment A systems ability to adapt to changes in its environment is referred to as an adaptive system (Parie’s, Macchi, Valot, & Deharvengt, 2019; Righi, Huber, Gomes, & de Carvalho, 2016; Woods, 2015). This relates to the capacities of a system to produce sustained adaptability to changes in its environment over extended periods. Systems may fail to demonstrate sustained adaptability and thereby unravel and collapse when confronted by previously unknown events, regardless of their record of successes (Taarup-Esbensen, 2020).

wrong, the level of safety is said to be low; but if few things go wrong, the level of safety is said to be high. E.g., the more manifestations there are, the less safety there is and vice versa. Unfortunately, this makes it impossible to demonstrate that efforts to improve safety have worked, hence very difficult to argue for continued resources (Hollnagel et al., 2013). Thus, before looking at how an accident in avalanche terrain occurs, we need to look at the outings that went well and why they did so, thereby, in effect, building safety on top of experience and knowledge instead of restraints.

When a system shows sustained adaptive capacity, it is referred to as resilient or “a system’s potential for adaptive action in the future when information varies, conditions change, or new kinds of events occur, any of which challenge the viability of previous adaptations, models, or assumptions” (Woods, 2009). The RE approach is a way to design theory that enables organisations to manage complexity when multiple systems interact. RE entails an approach to risk identification, risk analysis, and risk evaluation that is based on the advice that we should “move from ensuring that ‘as few things as possible go wrong (Safety-I)’ to ensuring that ‘as many things as possible go right (Safety-II)’” (Haavik, An tonsen, Rosness, & Hale, 2019; Hollnagel & Fujita, 2013; Hollnagel et al., 2015). Safety is generally defined to be the absence of adverse outcomes (Hollnagel et al., 2013). The curious consequence of this definition is that the level of safety is inversely related to the number of adverse outcomes. If many things go

Figure 2: Hollnagel (2015) argues that the way ahead lies not in replacing Safety-I with Safety II but rather in combining the two ways of thinking.

The resilience-based risk assessment model The resilience-based risk assessment is a continuous cyclical model based on RE. As the model is cyclical, it assesses ongoing risks based on the organisation’s current capabilities to act appropriately towards an incident (Taarup-Esbensen, 2020).

87 93

Improved Evaluation


Improved Competence


Value Creating Process


Improved Improved Capabilities Capabilities


Improved Identification

Figure 3: The resilience-based risk assessment.

In addition, by using the model, we need to continually review the subject in question, making it viable to assess risks as more dynamic than static, i.e., the model considers that conditions may change on an ongoing basis, e.g., the snowpack or level of fatigue. The resilience-based risk assessment is based on five concepts: Value Creation, Response, Monitor, Learn, Anticipate. The objective of a risk assessment is to account for risks so that an organisational understanding can be created, thereby making threats more tangible and possible to address (Hopkin, 2013; SRA, 2018). In the framework, the concepts have been paired with a connotation emphasising operationalisation and continuous improvement. Thus, we are left with a cyclical operational model with a focus on safe continuous improvements. Value Creation covers the organisation’s activities towards achieving the goals of the organisation’s vision and mission. Value creation can be cultural, monetary, organisational, or similar, but is something that the organisation deems necessary. It’s a broader description of what is essential to protect from harm, maintain and improve through a process of continuous improvement (Hollnagel, 2012; Taarup-Esbensen, 2020). Response, Monitor, Learn and Anticipate all point back to value creation as the initiatives that come from those concepts that must contribute to the organisation’s value creation. Respond covers the organisation’s ability to act systematically to a deviation in how the value adding processes are performed. An efficient organisation creates capabilities or systems that will enable it to perform tasks to ensure risks are addressed timely and effectively. Adopting standards based on a predetermined structure allows the organisation’s experiences to be transformed into standard operating procedures, such as how to perform hazard


assessments, terrain classification, snowpack evaluations, and so on. The organisation relies on identifying uncertainties in its internal and external environment and systematically responding to threats influencing its value-creating processes. Response covers the opportunities, capabilities, and skills of the organisation to act upon the new information. For the organisation to take advantage of its perceived capability, like taking a group on an exciting hike, it is essential to know what competencies are (or should be) present. Conversely, the organisation can only implement the capacity to act through the available resources (Taarup-Esbensen, 2020). Therefore, it is in the organisation’s interest that a structured overview of capabilities can be found, on which managers can base their decision making. Knowing on which basis decisions are enacted creates the foundation of protecting, preserving or mitigating risks endangering value-creating activities. Hollnagel (2015) argues that it is necessary to understand how everyday activities succeed and to know how they might fail. Monitoring is related to risk identification and how the organisation can systematically collect what they know about the environment and how it has handled past events. Monitoring informs decisionmakers of what to prepare for in the future as “a daily review of the risk assessment, avalanche forecast and mitigation (e.g., during an evening guides meeting) helps inform the baseline risk assessment for the following day by summarising the current hazard and confidence levels and identifying deficiencies in data” (CAA, 2016). In this way, the risk assessment scans for indications that changes to the normal processes occur while simultaneously improving risk analysis, thereby making it more likely that risks are identified. Through monitoring, it is possible to identify and adjust valueadding activities and thus increase the organisation’s resilience when adverse events materialise (Hollnagel, 2009).

For the organisation to benefit from the events, it is essential to have the ability to learn from its combined experiences. It is central to an organisation’s ability to accurately assess risks in its internal and external environment and learn from experience. While the system enables a response through capabilities, these are of little use if the individual does not possess the right competencies to utilise the capabilities’ potential. Having improved an organisation’s ability to identify risks accurately, it is up to the individual to instigate the proper response. Such a process requires the competence to gain knowledge and increase capabilities from the mistakes and shortcomings (Taarup-Esbensen 2020). According to RE, it is vital to analyse the organisation’s processes to attain feedback and knowledge of what was done right and thus ensure its success. Being able to anticipate changes to context and organisational processes enables improvements to evaluate risks qualifying decisions to prevent, mitigate, or accept a possible event. Knowing about a potential risk engenders action if there is a possibility that it will somehow influence an organisation’s value-adding processes. Hence, knowledge about risks provides decision makers with a benchmark operational escalation of different actions to mitigate possible consequences. For example, understanding how changes in the weather will affect organisational processes can support decisions to prevent or restrict certain activities.

Avalanche Risk Management Example To put RE into avalanche risk management perspectives, we have constructed the following scenario compiled from accident reports: Four skiers and a guide were hit by an avalanche on a slope 5 kilometres from the nearest town. The group met at the local ski resort two hours before and were 1 hour and 30 minutes into their tour. Two of the skiers (not the guide) were covered entirely but managed to get free with help from the group. The avalanche victims had been skiing in the area for several days and perceived the official high danger as very conservative assessments. The skier’s explanation states that assessments were made regularly based on snow-cover and route choices. The group comes to a critical point to consider the last southeast-facing slope down to town. Towards the slope, there is dry fresh snow that is little affected by the wind. The guide observes that there is more snow down in the terrain and that the group may deal with a possible avalanche situation. There is a 30–32-degree incline in the slope. According to the guide, he is faced with two choices if it is to be downhill on skis: Ski right or left around a terrain formation. The guide decides to turn to the right, and at an inclination of about 20 degrees, he quickly comes to a break in the snow cover. The guide now considers reversing his decision going back the same route and from there proceeding left. Here there is a convex formation over a bowl shape in the terrain. He stops, makes an assessment, decides to cancel the trip and follow the same route back. However, two group members are confused or did not follow the instructions and continue to the right. At that point, the avalanche occurs. It is an approximately 15-degree slope where the group stands when there is a big roar, and the snow cracks up in front of the skiers. Most of the skiers are facing obliquely to the left in the direction of the fall. It is unclear to the group what is happening. Either they lose balance and slide into the avalanche, or the group gets absorbed by the snow in motion. The group tries to stay on their skis, but two of the members are driven further towards the middle of the avalanche, thereby getting absorbed in the fall. The guide is disoriented by what is happening around him and stays on his skis until the avalanche nearly stops. When the avalanche stops, the airways of the two group members are partially filled with snow. The group quickly locates the two buried members but finds it difficult to remove the snow. It is packed

down towards their legs and abdomen region, making it strenuous to move. Their heads are entirely locked and facing upwards. From the time of the avalanche, approximately 35 minutes pass before the skiers are freed. The guide calls a snow mobile service for the two and they arrive in an estimated 20 minutes. The primary cause is related to the action of the two skiers. However, it can be claimed that the guide should have evaluated the client’s skiing abilities before the tour and assessed the probability of the client being able to ski the slope properly and comply with the guide’s instructions. Time constraints prevented the guide from spending sufficient time before the tour with the client to assess skiing abilities. In that case, such an evaluation was not possible as he only had 30 minutes with the group before heading out. Ultimately, the management would be responsible for faulty decision making as they failed to conduct proper risk assessments and implement a system that could prevent such an accident. The organisation can benefit from a resilience-based approach to assess self-imposed constraints on the guide when conducting risk assessments. Everything is more apparent in hindsight, but through a resilience-based risk assessment, it is more likely that the ski guide would understand the impact of his decision-making process. He should have looked at how the actions taken could affect his organisation’s value creation activities and then initiate the following steps: The guide should have assessed the level of ability to respond to an event in the group. The guides’ understanding of how the group would react in avalanche-prone areas could have been qualified through a thorough briefing or a small exercise. • The guide should monitor the area and be current with the latest information regarding snowpack, avalanche conditions, and weather forecast. • It should by now be possible for the guide to have learned enough about the clients and the local conditions to plan a trip in accordance with their level of risk acceptance while continuing to be aware of possible pitfalls. • The guide can anticipate worst-case scenarios and evaluate new information as it arrives by having insights into the group’s skill level, having an effective monitoring system and assessing the client’s level of competence. For the organisation to anticipate adverse events, its members should utilise their capabilities to identify risk and build their skills and competencies through continuous learning. The guide should be encouraged to take the necessary steps to strengthen continuous learning and thereby increase safety. By entering a virtuous circle of learning, the organisation supports its own value creation and improves safe operations.

Discussion A risk assessment must evaluate and express the processed risks with the available knowledge (Aven et al., 2018). Taarup-Esbensen (2020) describes that many of the unintended events in dynamic environments are not isolated incidents but occur in combination with other incidents, increasing the complexity of risk assessments and possible emergency response efforts alike. Through this approach, risks become more relevant in terms of accuracy as the risks assessed are likely to change continuously. From a Safety-II standpoint, accidents do not happen because of error or malfunction but because of unexpected combinations of everyday performance variability (Hollnagel, 2015). These combined risks are usually not addressed through an ordinary risk assessment model. In contrast, the resilience-based risk assessment will continuously improve the evaluation enabling the mitigation of possible threats.


Conclusion There has previously been a call for an approach that addresses the elements that can cause “human error”—defined as a situation where it is impossible to identify alternative explanations referring to either failure of technology or unforeseen environmental conditions (Kristensen, 2012). In this case, when a person overestimates their ability to ski or when the guide makes a wrong risk assessment. RE prescribes that an emphasis should be placed on what the organisation can do, strengthening existing capabilities and creating the foundations for growing new skills. The focus should be on human factors and the day-to-day adaptability that makes operations run smoothly. The resilience-based framework incorporates these human factors and organisational capabilities to the risk assessment and thereby resilient organisation. To maintain system safety, we must recognise that we cannot change the human condition. Still, we can change the conditions under which people work. We cannot necessarily change the threats we are exposed to, but we might change how we handle them. As exemplified above, the client fails to adhere to the guidelines and gets caught in an avalanche. In this case, the ski guide might not be able to do much about the client’s action as he was busy doing an in-situ assessment of the conditions. Before and during the outing, the guide would assess competencies and skills, thereby reducing the likelihood that an avalanche event would occur at all.

By exploring a resilience-based approach to understanding risks in a system that deals with avalanche hazards, it’s clear that human factors should be considered. Making sure actions are linked to organisational value creation becomes a measure of control to secure an adequate risk assessment and manage resources. When the focus is removed from the individual and placed on the organisation, it becomes clearer how the risks can unfold and their impact managed. By assessing the organisation, it is possible to address the capability of the entire organisation and still take the human factors into account. A noticeable absence in avalanche risk management literature is when assessing risks, little or no emphasis is put on the in-situ capabilities of individuals. Through a resilience-based risk assessment, it is possible to consider the group’s abilities to handle an adverse event, thereby exploiting the sum of abilities to adapt to changes. 1. The first step is to place something of value to the organisation at the centre of the assessment. In this case, it provides ski tour companies with an anchor point from which to prioritise resources and time, e.g., the need to protect the image of the skiing company as a safe operator by assessing potential client’s skiing skills and identifying possible risks during a trip. 2. The model provides decision-makers with a dynamic approach to assessing risks based on the organisation’s current capabilities to handle a given risk event. E.g., when briefing and interacting with the group, an assessment of technical skills, attitude and abilities towards safety is simultaneously assessed. Clients with different skills may need different itineraries or at least meet at the lowest denominator.


Photo: Charlotte Tear

3. The ability to anticipate comes from the organisation’s members continuously making accurate risk assessments. Guides can make assessments using their knowledge about local conditions, identify threats, and understand how to work with preventive barriers using their applied understanding of the area, terrain maps, weather reports, contacts in the local rescue services and knowing who else might be in the area to make an accurate assessment. Strange, it may seem, to use a simple systematic approach to avalanche operations. It shows that compiling a risk assessment around value creation enables organisations to exploit opportunities that arise with a certain amount of risk.

For a full list of resources used for this article please see the next page.

Literature Aven, T., Ben-Haim, Y., Andersen, H. B., Cox, T., Droguett, E. L., Greenberg, M., Guikema, S., Kröger, W., Renn, O., Thompson, K. M., & Zio, E. (2015). Society for Risk Analysis Glossary. 9. Aven, T. (2015). Risk assessment and risk management: Review of recent advances on their foundation. European Journal of Operational Research. Aven, T., & Renn, O. (2009). On risk is defined as an event where the outcome is uncertain. Journal of Risk Research, 12(1), 1–11. Canadian Avalanche Association. (2016). Technical aspects of snow avalanche risk management: Resources and guidelines for avalanche practitioners in Canada. Haavik, T. K., Antonsen, S., Rosness, R., & Hale, A. (2019). HRO and RE: A pragmatic perspective. Safety Science, 117, 479–489. Hollnagel, E., (2009). Resilience Engineering Perspectives, Volume 2: Preparation and Restoration (C.P. Nemeth, Ed.) (1st ed.). CRC Press. Hollnagel, E., leonhardt, jörg, Licu, T., & Shorrock, S. (2013). From Safety-I to Safety-II: A White Paper (Eurocontrol). Hollnagel, E., Wears R.L. & Braithwaite J. (2015). From Safety-I to Safety-II: A White Paper. The Resilient Health Care Net: Published simultaneously by the University of Southern Denmark, University of Florida, USA, and Macquarie University, Australia. Hollnagel, E., & Fujita, Y. (2013). THE FUKUSHIMA DISASTER – SYSTEMIC FAILURES AS THE LACK OF RESILIENCE. Nuclear Engineering and Technology, 45(1), 13–20. Hopkin, P., & Management, I. of R. (2012). Fundamentals of Risk Management: Understanding, Evaluating and Implementing Effective Risk Management. Kogan Page Publishers. Taarup‐Esbensen, J. (2020). A Resilience‐Based Approach to Risk Assessments—Building Resilient Organisations under Arctic Conditions. Risk Analysis, 40(11), 2399–2412. Kristensen, I., & Kristensen, K. (2012). Proceedings, 2012 International Snow Science Workshop, Anchorage, Alaska. 4. Righi, A. W., Huber, G. J., Gomes, J. O., & de Carvalho, P. V. R. (2016). Resilience in Firefighting Emergency Response: Standardisation and Resilience in Complex Systems. IFAC PapersOnLine, 49(32), 119–123. Statham, G., Haegeli, P., Greene, E., Birkeland, K., Israelson, C., Tremper, B., Stethem, C., McMahon, B., White, B., & Kelly, J. (2018). A conceptual model of avalanche hazard. Natural Hazards, 90(2), 663–691. Paté-Cornell, E., & Cox, L. A. (2014). Improving Risk Management: From Lame Excuses to Principled Practice. Risk Analysis, 34(7), 1228–1239. Pariès, J., Macchi, L., Valot, C., & Deharvengt, S. (2019). Comparing HROs and RE in the light of safety management systems. Safety Science, 117, 501–511. Woods, D. D. (2015). Four concepts for resilience and the implications for the future of resilience engineering. Reliability Engineering & System Safety, 141, 5–9. Woods, D. D. (2009). Escaping failures of foresight. Safety Science, 47(4), 498–501.

Hangfire While perusing podcasts and avalanche articles recently I could not help but cringe at some disappointing word choices I encountered. It may just be me, but it seems that our snow and avalanche media has become infected with a most fatuous of words: intuition.


To understand why this is so troubling to me, we should start with a definition. Intuition, according to the internet, is 'the ability to understand something instinctively without the need for conscious reasoning, a hunch, feeling, inkling, sneaky suspicion, premonition or foreboding.' Without the need for conscious reasoning? Am I missing something? Is what we do as avalanche practitioners not process based? Are we not relying on conscious reasoning to form our decision making? I had to think about this.

We are fortunate as human beings to autonomically input stimuli into our mind and not only actively analyse that information but also analyse our analysis. This is the advanced conscious mind: the selfinquisitive one. The algorithm we produce as we travel more frequently in avalanche terrain creates the output of the myriad of subtle revelations within our internal monologue: That slope was firm underfoot. The north aspects are icy. The east aspects are not as loaded as the advisory said they'd be. Is that old debris over there? Data pours in. The algorithm swells, and it can become overwhelming. When decision making stress occurs it can become all too easy to disqualify ourselves (or others) from the process, throw in the towel and fall back onto nomenclatures to clear ourselves such as intuition. Trust your intuition? No. I say you must trust your entire process: You must trust You.

Fear is a Lack of Knowledge What is it you feel when you get a so-called hunch or a sense of foreboding? Fear, you are feeling fear and to put it simply, fear is a lack of knowledge. Why do some people fear the dark? With limited data, in this case optical data, they get frightened at what they cannot see. To counter the effect they begin to make up fables (ghosts, wild animals, serial killers) attempting to explain what's out there and why they are acting so fearfully in front of their friends. As modern humans we also fear being wrong and we are usually wrong when we don't have all the necessary information to help us check our own fear. In this instance a 'gut feeling' is actually a realisation that we lack data. When one gains more data the inverse becomes true: one gains more insight illuminating the problem at hand. This becomes one of those "learning moments" we know and love. As this continues across weeks, months and winter seasons data and experience begin to form and mature the algorithm of your conscious mind. It is only by activating your conscious mind that you can begin to comprehend. This happens when we ask real questions of our processes: Do we have enough data to ski or open this slope? Why do we think that? If not, what data do we require? Can we get that data here and now or do we need to look elsewhere to obtain it? If you show up to a particular slope with an immature data set then you are doing it wrong. Most of the data acquisition you need in order to make good decisions should have been acquired hours, days, even weeks beforehand from varied resources including the backcountry forecast but also ski patrol, guides, automatic weather stations, websites, webcams, social media and of course, your own myriad of direct field observations.


Ed Anderson

So why are avalanche professionals casually describing their decision making process as intuitive? Is it a lack of self trust? A fear of being wrong? Worse yet, is it an ego plug?

The Data Shall Set You Free Data is our discipline. It is what we are made and paid for. We collect all relevant information as often as possible. You must consciously choose what to put in front of you and there are literally hundreds of sources of information available. Living in a world that is guided only by instinct, not by data, without a need for conscious reasoning and subsequently hiding behind a vocabulary that seeks to elevate itself to a level of mythical knowledge (even falsely deprecating at times) is inexcusable amongst professionals. Worse still when it does come time to make a critical decision you will invariably let yourself and your operation down.

Use Your Words If you are dedicated to your profession you would never intuit anything. Would a doctor intuit a diagnosis of a patient or a pilot intuit a tricky landing of an aircraft? No. These skilled professionals, like avalanche professionals, utilise all incoming data sources, consciously communicate that data to themselves and others and only then make a professional decision to treat that patient or land that aircraft. As avalanche professionals we are no different and we should never say or act like we are. It's just a word right? Intuitive. It's so much more than that. Words have power. Words are our power as individuals and as professionals, spoken or written. We should use our words wisely.

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