Vista Lodge Case Study – Day 5 Building a Tour Plan

It’s the morning of Day 5 and one group wants to venture down valley. You’re ready to explore some new terrain. Watch the video below to learn what your group is thinking.

Work through the pre-trip plan section of the tour plan. If you want to write down your answers, you can use this worksheet for notes.

Do any current conditions cause you concern?

What avalanche problems are present?

Is the route down valley appropriate for the current conditions? Would you call it open, on standby, or closed?

Do you have any concerns with the plan to venture into new terrain?

Vista Lodge Case Study – Day 4 Information

You and your group have had 3 days of great ski touring. Everyone is excited to check out the bigger terrain along Trundle Ridge today, so you head in that direction in two separate groups. Watch the video to hear about the day.

Vista Lodge Case Study – Day 3 Information

It’s day 3 of the hut trip! Your group splits into 2 teams. One heads out for a peak climbing adventure. One heads out to see if they can venture in to some north facing terrain off of the Trundle Ridge. It’s another beautiful day at the lodge. Watch the video to hear what each group found.

Vista Lodge Case Study – Day 2 Information

Now that you have some baseline information, it’s time to do a full day tour and see what this lodge has to offer. You head just down valley from the lodge. Watch this video to learn what you saw.

Vista Lodge Case Study – Day 1 Information

It’s finally time to fly into the hut. You have a handle on current conditions, based on what you’ve read of the forecast. It’s a clear day for your helicopter flight and your team is excited.

Below is a video that outlines what you did on Day 1. Take some notes on current conditions and what avalanche problems are present on what aspects. This is the first day you get to test your hypothesis about the snowpack. Do conditions match what you expected to see? Does anything surprise you?

Use this sheet to keep track of conditions for the next 4 days. This will help you when we ask you to go through a morning planning session on Day 5.

An Introduction to the Vista Lodge Case Study

A couple of years ago, Don Carpenter went on a hut trip to the Vista Lodge, near Golden, British Columbia. Watch the following video that will set the stage for the case study.

Group Dynamics, Communication, Decision-Making and the Human Factor

How we interact with our partners in the backcountry can influence the success of the day. Understanding outside influences on decision making is important. Below, Don Carpenter walks through some factors that can influence decisions.

In the following video, Don Carpenter is going to spend some time going through a variety of factors that can positively or negatively influence decisions and will then ask you to do a self-assessment.

Once you have completed the self assessment, continue with the next video.

Common human factor traps that Don will discuss include FACETS – Familiarity, Acceptance, Commitment, Expert Halo, Tracks and Scarcity. He also talks about the risk equation and how understanding this equation that can improve our decision-making processes.

Here’s a PODCAST with Ian McCammon, discussing FACETS and other decision-making tools.

Here is the ISSW paper discussing FACETS by Ian McCammon.

Now that you’ve gone through the ruthless self-assessment, let’s walk through tools for group interactions and for navigating “the human factor.”

Here’s an article about the Seven Dragons, written by Ken Wylie.

Here is a TED talk by Grant Statham about Risk.

A Refresher on How To Do Stability Tests

How does the snow pit fit into your decision-making? It can be confusing to know what to do with stability test results. Here are a few thoughts on how to think about tips.


The Extended Column Test is a commonly used stability test. With this test, you are looking to see how much force the column takes to fail and if the failure propagates across the whole column.

Here’s a how to.

Another stability test that is often used is the compression test.

Here is how to do the compression test.

REMEMBER: Stability tests are just one piece of the puzzle. Don’t make a decision based on just one snowpit or one stability test. These tests should be used in conjunction with other information. Have you seen recent avalanche activity? Has there been any cracking or collapsing? What is the season history and the current avalanche problem(s). And if there is ever any confusion with test results or how they fit in to the big picture, choose simpler terrain.

Tips on Digging an Efficient Test Pit

Digging snow pits can be time consuming, especially when you are learning. More often than not, you are not going to stop on a ski tour and dig a full profile. It is likely that you will focus on digging a test pit. The goal is to understand what the weakest layer is, the depth and distribution of this weak layer, how much force it takes to fail, and does the failure propagate? Efficiency takes practice.

When digging a test pit (or any pit, for that matter), the pit should be placed in an area that is safe, representative and polite.

The goal of a test pit is a focused analysis. What’s the weakest layer? How much force does it take to fail? Does the failure propagate?

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Watch the following video to learn more about how Don Sharaf executes a test pit.

There is a lot of teaching and talking in this video. With practice, you should be able to get a lot of good snowpack information in 5-15 minutes. You may discover an instability and experience a propagating ECT. This information may lead you to back off of a slope. Even with less conclusive results, the more you dig each day, the better understanding you gain of current stability.

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