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.
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.
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.