Group Dynamics, Communication, and an Introduction to the Human Factor Copy

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

Introduction to the Avalanche Forecast – Gathering Information from the Professionals Copy

One resource that we will use whenever traveling in the backcountry is the local avalanche forecast page.  To locate your forecast center, go to avalanche.org and click on your local forecast center.

If you’re headed to Canada, you can go to avalanche.ca to find regional forecasts.

The avalanche forecast offers current hazard ratings, as well as any reports of recent avalanche activity, current and forecasted weather, and a variety of other information.

The West Couloir Accident Review

Do you have your red flags written down?

Now that you have spent time reviewing the accident, as well as the snow and weather conditions in the days leading up to and the day of the accident, let’s review what stood out to Jake.

The West Couloir of Kessler Peak

In this video, Jake Hutchinson introduces the accident that we are going to review. This accident occurred in the West Couloir on Kessler Peak in the Wasatch.

The goal of reviewing this accident is to learn from it. It is not to criticize those involved as individuals. The more we know about avalanches and avalanche accidents, the more we can hope to recognize similar situations and choose alternative routes or alternative solutions.

If, for any reason, this accident review is triggering for you, please skip this exercise and move on to the other material. It is not required that you participate in this accident review.

Take notes on the obvious clues within terrain, snowpack, weather, and human factors that may have had an impact on this incident. Have these notes handy at the pre-course Zoom Meeting. We will spend some time at that meeting discussing/debriefing this incident.


Here is an article about the accident. And a second article can be found here.

The Accident Report from the Utah Avalanche Center can be found here.

And the accident site can be found here. If the accident site doesn’t pull up immediately, use the search bar and search “West Couloir fatality”

The Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard and Making Decisions in and around Avalanche Terrain

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.