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Plan Z

Factors that cause avalanches can be broadly grouped into two groups: physical factors—those related to the snow, terrain and weather—and psychological—namely human behaviour and decision making that puts people in harm's way.

Psychological causes, often reffered to as human factors, are much trickier to get a handle on. Snow and conditions might be difficult to read and predict but unfortunately the only constant in all avalanche fatalities is we humans.

Most people set off on a backcountry adventure with a specific goal in mind, but this seemingly innocent behaviour can often be a main cause of avalanche incidents in the backcountry.

Having a plan A, B and C seems like a smart idea, in that you have options should your intended route become unavailable. Whilst fallbacks are a great idea, dangling a giant carrot infront of the group tends to add extra pressure to achieve the goal. Without knowing, the desire to succeed with 'Plan A' could start to cloud your decision making to the extent that people don't want to feel like the trip has been a failure if that goal isn't realized.

Getting home safely should be your 'summit'

Try breaking down a trip through avalanche terrain into several smaller legs and use each one as a benchmark or goal. Instead of having the summit as Plan A, make it your main objective to safely navigate the first ridge. Then from there you can reassess the route ahead and reset your objectives. Not only will you be armed with much more information than when you started, your next move will be more calculated and far safer as a result. From there you can aim for the next ridge or terrain feature. As you go you'll be able to scout the area for recent avalanche activity, get a feel for the snow and see how your group is travelling.

You'll notice that setting smaller, more managable goals, you be less inclined to put your head down and push for the summit and you'll be more mindfull and aware of the surroundings. By compartmentalizing the trip and reassessing the situation at every stop you also give yourself more opportunities to say no and to back away.

Because, after all, having an adventure and getting home safely should be everyone's priority.