Avalanche decision-making frameworks: Factors and methods used by experts
The snowy mountains of the world attract more and more backcountry recreationalists. Besides beauty and joy, traveling in avalanche terrain can involve risk of injury and even death. A correct assessment of avalanche danger and following a correct decision is crucial. This requires a thorough evaluation of a range of factors. To aid these decisions several decision-making frameworks (DMF) have been put forward. However, actual use of these frameworks and their underlying factors can be questioned. We asked 100 experts about their familiarity and usage of the DMFs and their underlying factors. We found a large discrepancy between familiarity with and actual use of the most commonly used DMFs. In contrast to most frameworks that have a probabilistic approach, experts primarily use an analytical one. We also found that experts use more factors and emphasize other factors than most DMFs do. Indeed, the factors the experts use do not match any of the DMFs well, with the agreement ranging from 56% to 73%. Factors seen as core in many frameworks, such as the combination of danger level and slope inclination, are by a large margin the least used of all the terrain factors among the experts. We found a void between the existing frameworks and how – and on what basis – experts make their decisions. Our findings raise a fundamental question: How, when and where do the transition from novice to expert occur? Future initiatives to revise or develop new decision-making frameworks should take into account what experts use.