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Redesigning the backcountry

Much is made of the science behind avalanches: geography, snow structure, weather, but the one similarity in all fatal backcountry accidents is, unfortunately, us humans. Powder published an amazing article, The Human Factor, that explores and tries to explain how people unwittingly get themselves into dangerous situations — in spite of adequate training and knowledge. As important as snow studies are, the psychology of how we approach the backcountry is pivotal in our ability to safely navigate our way home.

In the wake of many fatal accidents there is ample discussion about the ill-fated journey, and what could have been done to prevent a tragic outcome. But the problem with reverse engineering a solution is that the event needs to have happened in the first place, so such discussions, whilst valid and useful, aren’t sustainable. When given retrospectively, armchair punditry after the fact only serves to satisfy the ego of the pundit.

Most backcountry journeys start with reading the avalanche forecast but, for most, that’s where the knowledge sharing and thought process stops. Forecasts should only be a starting point for any would-be adventure. While they do provide a wealth of data on current conditions of an area they should only ever act as conversation starters for a trip.

Avalog is an open platform that makes sharing backcountry information easier. By building a community and creating discussions around professional avalanche forecasts backcountry adventurers can access up-to-date information for their surroundings, helping them make smarter decisions.

Avalanche centres around the world do a fantastic job in producing forecasts. We all rely on them as our main source of information on a backcountry trip. But as effective as they are, these forecasts can also provide a false sense of security. They cover such a vast area that any information should only be used as a rough guide to what you’ll likely encounter out there. And whilst the avalanche danger ratings are a great way to get a visual overview of the current conditions, they too can be misleadingly vague.

The smart way to use an avalanche forecast is a first step to help kick-start your day. Take what you see in the forecast and match it up with your own observations. Safe travel through avalanche terrain is thousands of tiny decisions rolled into one. History shows that even the most experienced amongst us make mistakes out there. Without acknowledging these mistakes and openly discussing them nobody can progress and learn.

Avalanche forecasting is everyone’s job.