Natural Hazards

, 52:185 | Cite as

Amateur decision-making in avalanche terrain with and without a decision aid: a stated choice survey

  • Pascal HaegeliEmail author
  • Wolfgang Haider
  • Margo Longland
  • Ben Beardmore
Original Paper


Avalanches pose a serious threat to recreational backcountry travelers in mountainous terrain. This study explores how the three main amateur user groups of avalanche terrain in western Canada (backcountry skiers, out-of-bound skiers, and snowmobile riders) balance recreational goals with safety concerns when choosing backcountry destinations under varying avalanche conditions. Using a discrete choice experiment (DCE), a stated preference technique, the study first examines the strengths and weaknesses in the decision process of the three amateur groups by comparing their responses with the choice patterns of professional mountain guides. The results show that the decision-making strategies employed by the respective amateur groups vary considerably in their level of complexity and the degree to which avalanche safety considerations are incorporated. Second, we examine the effects of a decision aid that preprocesses the most crucial pieces of avalanche hazard information on the decision preferences of the amateur groups in the DCE. The results show that a relatively simple decision aid can influence the decision-making process considerably and steer users towards more avalanche hazard sensitive behaviour.


Decision-making Avalanche safety Decision aid Discrete choice experiment Choice complexity Backcountry skiing Out-of-bounds skiing Snowmobile riding 



The initial study on amateur decision preferences was supported by the ADFAR project of the Canadian Avalanche Association, which was funded by the Government of Canada through the Search and Rescue New Initiative Fund (SAR-NIF). The subsequent survey on professional decision-making was financed jointly by HeliCat Canada, the Canadian Avalanche Association and the Backcountry Lodges of British Columbia Association. Additional in-kind support was provided by Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, Zacs Tracs and Glacier National Park. The first author of this paper was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada for part of this research. The authors would also like to express their thanks to Don Anderson for his advice on the statistical design of the discrete choice experiment and Paulus Mau, Grant Statham, Wayne Tucker, Matt Gunn, Lisa Ochowycz and Shannon Dixon for their contributions to this research. We also thank the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pascal Haegeli
    • 1
    Email author
  • Wolfgang Haider
    • 1
  • Margo Longland
    • 1
  • Ben Beardmore
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Resource and Environmental ManagementSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

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