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Avalanche Risk During Backcountry Skiing – An Analysis of Risk Factors


Skier-triggered avalanches are the main cause of avalanche accidents in backcountry skiing. The risk of accidents during backcountry skiing was analysed statistically and related to factors such as elevation level, aspect, stability rating and the time of the year. The analysis is based on a database about terrain usage and avalanche accidents from a large heli-skiing operator in Canada, which makes it possible to study the conditional probability of accidents given the recorded pattern of terrain usage. This study shows that the historical risk of accidentally triggering an avalanche greater than size 1 depends highly on the stability rating, with the highest risk occurring during “poor” stability. The risk is greater at high elevations, and it is lower during the late season than earlier on. Skier risk does not depend as much on aspect as may be indicated from avalanche data alone. However, it is relatively high in the N–NE–E sector. These factors are not independent of each other and therefore analyses of combined factors were also performed. Questionnaires and interviews were used to gain knowledge about the terrain selection of professional mountain guides. These results indicate that when selecting terrain, guides first look at the overall shape and size of the terrain, but avalanche history of terrain and inclination are also important factors. Finally, remarks in avalanche reports were analysed, and common human factors identified.

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Correspondence to Harpa Grímsdóttir.

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Grímsdóttir, H., Mcclung, D. Avalanche Risk During Backcountry Skiing – An Analysis of Risk Factors. Nat Hazards 39, 127–153 (2006).

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  • avalanche risk management
  • human triggered avalanches
  • risk analysis
  • avalanche risk
  • recreation
  • backcountry skiing
  • mountain guides
  • snow avalanches
  • Columbia Mountains
  • helicopter-skiing