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What is in a Backcountry First Aid Kit?

If you or your partner is caught and carried in an avalanche, it is possible that you are hurt.  It is important to be prepared to manage injuries in the backcountry. Here are some thoughts on backcountry first aid following an avalanche.

This video is optional.

If you want to learn more about backcountry first aid, take a Wilderness First Aid course or a Wilderness First Responder course.

Breaking down the components of an Avalanche Rescue

There are many facets of a well-executed avalanche rescue.  Practicing all of the components is essential, as buried victims have the best chance of survival if they are recovered within the first 10 minutes.

Watch this video from Backcountry Access about organizing an avalanche rescue.

Building Avalanche Hazard and Forecasts using the Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard (CMAH)

A lot of information goes into making a decision in the backcountry. Before you head out in the morning, take the time to gather data – what has the weather been doing in the last 24 hours? Has it snowed? Has the wind been blowing? What avalanche problems will likely be present on your tour? Build a hypothesis of conditions and then check the avalanche forecast. What do the experts say?

Understanding the forecasted avalanche hazard and avalanche problems before leaving on your tour can help you and your team make better decisions. Here’s Jenna Malone’s explanation about why having a systematic approach is important.

Many aspects of the Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard are referenced in the AAI Backcountry checklist. This is a great tool for sorting and prioritizing information in the field.

Here’s an article about the Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard.

And here’s the blog from the UAC that she referenced, written by Drew Hardesty.

Playing Poker and Winter Backcountry Travel – What do these have in common?

Backcountry skiing and poker have a lot in common. In both, there is a lot of hidden, unknown information and a whole lot of uncertainty. Learning how to sort and prioritize information and make decisions in a high-uncertainty environment is important to backcountry travel, as well as poker playing.

How can you tell if you made a good decision or just got lucky? How do you evaluate the quality of your decisions?

These are a few things that Jenna Malone will discuss in the following video.

Want more? Here’s a link to Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke, that Jenna is referring to.

A Deeper Dive into Group Dynamics and What Can Influence Decision-Making

There are many factors that can influence decisions. Sometimes, when traveling in the backcountry, a group uses a checklist, clearly communicates, and comes to a decision in a consensus manner, choosing to ski a slope based on their observations and the forecast. Other times, there is little communication, and a group might follow one person, the leader, on whatever tour they have chosen for the day. And still other times, there might be no clear leadership on a day of touring.

We want to spend some time discussing a variety of factors that might influence our decisions in the field. We spend time studying how humans interact as a group and what might influence communication and decisions, as poor communication or lack of communication is a factor in many avalanche accidents.

The following video series presented by Jenna Malone will discuss the Human Factors and Decision-Making. In addition to being an AAI instructor, Jenna is a PA, a ski patroller, and a guide. She is able to offer a broad perspective on decision making and how the human factors influence these decisions.

Here’s the original research article about Heuristics from Ian McCammon.

Want even more? Here’s the paper that covers Strategic Mindset. This piece is often used in guide service operations.

How to Sort information in a Winter Environment with ALPTRUTh

ALPTRUTh is an acronym developed by Ian McCammon. The acronym identifies 7 factors that contribute to avalanche accidents. In Ian’s research, he found that over 90% of the avalanche accidents he looked at occurred when 3 or more of these factors are present. Using ALPTRUTh as a double check while in the field can be a great tool.

A: Avalanche. Have there been any avalanches in the last 48 hours?
L: Loading. Has there been any loading by snow, wind, or rain in the last 48 hours?
P: Path. Is there a noticeable and obvious avalanche path, even by a novice?
T: Terrain Trap. Is there a terrain trap present, such as gullies, trees, cliffs or other features that increase the severity of being caught?
R: Rating. Is the rating of today’s avalanche report CONSIDERABLE, HIGH or EXTREME?
U: Unstable snow. Are there any signs of unstable snow such as cracking, collapsing, or whoomping?
TH: THaw instability. Has there been recent, rapid warming of the snow surface due to sun, wind, rain, or air temperature?

Group Dynamics, Communication, and the Human Factor’s Influence on Backcountry Travel

Group dynamics and interactions can influence how we make decisions in the backcountry.  Understanding some of these influences will hopefully help us to better navigate them and make better decisions.

There are accident write ups available from a variety of sources. Take the time to review at least one of these accidents to understand how group dynamics, communication or lack of communication, and unclear goals can contribute to avalanche accidents.

Tunnel Creek Accident Review from the New York Times

Cherry Bowl Accident Review from the Canadian Avalanche Association