Monday, 29 October 2012

Avalanches - Human Factors

From Back Country Access - Bruce Edgerly


Here’s Part 5 in our series on ISSW 2012, the International Snow Science Workshop, held last month in Anchorage, AK.
ISSW 2012
What lies ahead in the world of snow safety and avalanche education? Sounds like a heavy question, doesn’t it? We tried to address this question at the 2012 ISSW (International Snow Science Workshop) last month in Anchorage, AK. BCA vice president Bruce Edgerly presented, “Talking the talk: Human factors, group communication and the future of snow safety.”
As you can guess from the title, we think the future of snow safety lies in “human factors.” And we’re not the only ones. This area is where all the energy is right now at the leading edge of the avalanche industry. The idea is that having all the right equipment, training, and experience still isn’t enough to keep you out of an avalanche. There are a myriad of human factors that influence even the most experienced pros in the field, including peer pressure, competition, status, scarcity, goal-setting, and communication. These factors are often cited when seasoned experts end up in avalanches.
Edgerly summarized what he called the “evolution of avalanche rescue.” Up until about 30 years ago, rescue was focused on organized rescue: search and rescue by members outside that of the victim, using search dogs and organized probe lines. This was followed by the adoption of companion rescue and the use of beacons, probes and shovels to perform rescues within your own group. This has evolved into the era of self rescue, with the rapidly increasing use of avalanche airbags to keep yourself from getting buried. Edgerly said that, ideally, the next phase in this evolution would be “non-rescue,” where education and prevention drive down the number of fatalities. He said he thought the biggest opportunities for achieving this was through attacking the human factors and communication issues that so often result in modern avalanche fatalities.
Edge presented the paper with support from co-author Paul Baugher, the patrol director at Crystal Mountain, with case studies provided by Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecaster/statistician Spencer Logan. As examples, they illustrated five avalanche fatalities in Colorado and two snow immersion fatalities in Washington and California that were directly related to lost verbal communication between individuals in the group. For details, read their ISSW paper on our research page.
In each of these cases, the skiers, snowboarders, or snowmobilers involved lost sight of each other and weren’t able to establish verbal contact. This resulted in one person being unaware the other was buried, injured, or stuck in a tree well. Establishing verbal contact in each of these cases most likely would have prevented the fatality.
What was Edgerly’s conclusion? That backcountry riding has changed a lot over the past ten years and “good partnering” has become more difficult. Skiers and snowboarders are riding bigger lines, more technical terrain, and not stopping as often to regroup and maintain contact. Combine this with an over-reliance on cell phones–and the resulting false sense of security–and you’ve got an epidemic of poor “real-time communication.” He lauded AIARE (American Institute of Avalanche  Research and Education) and the CAA (Canadian Avalanche Association) for including progressive modules on group communication in their training curriculums. But he said there is still a technical gap that is not being filled “to address the issue of lost verbal contact when good partnering fails.” He called cell phones impractical in the backcountry winter environment and he called Talkabout-style two-way radios a great first step, but marginal with respect to their user interface and reliability in winter conditions.
 “So what does that mean? How are you going to improve this?” somebody asked from the audience.
 “You’ll see that human factors and communication will become a big part of our education program over the next few years,” Edgerly responded. “We think this is the next great opportunity for saving lives.”

I have just posted this file from Bruce Edgerly VP of Back Country Access which he presented at ISSW 2012 Alaska.  I may be biased but I tend to like the simple approach BCA take to education and they bring a lot to the table, this paper being no exception in my opinion. As mentioned in the paper we have moved forward from good organised rescue (often too late) to the immediate companion rescue which has a bigger impact on reducing morbidity and mortality. The use of airbags will also surely have in impact but I think we might be a long way from these becoming commonplace for all but the serious freerider and alpine touring party. European guides are more often now equipping clients (multiple burials on the uphill part of a tour being unfortunately frequent)with ABS rucksacks.

Phone apps are appearing and could be a step backwards in education as some misguided folks sadly believe these are as effective as a Beacon. While the innovators may mean well, at the end of the day they want to make some money and may be quite ignorant of the reality of avalanche recovery where pinpoint
accuracy is everything to survival and the ultimate airway opening device is a shovel.

Two avlx app examples below

The latter app is undergoing some testing by the Chamonix PHGM/CRS but rightly the rescuers are keen to point out its in early stages and no substitute for beacon, shovel and probe. Given the terrain around Europes highest mountain, narrowing down the search area to even +/- 100m could help narrow down a search area for body recovery saving time. But that's a location app not an avlx app.

I have briefly tested the SnowWhere app ( and its basically just a glorified GPS location device. Accurate to +/- 10 meteres at best, which realistically in a circle is about 300 sq/meters which is a lot of probing, maybe 300+ holes.

Stay Safe

Davy Gunn

Sunday, 28 October 2012

A Dozen More Turns

I seem to be getting lots of enquiry's for back country gear and to provide training at the moment.  Scottish MR has developed a very good course programme and is keen for me to stay involved. I have given lectures and helped a bit with this but they have such a good faculty and course setup now the last thing they need is war stories from an ex MR. With my wife just post treatment for breast cancer its been a hard 12 months and its become clear that I have given a lot of folk (including the MR avlx faculty) the runaround by being non committal when asked to teach or lecture over the last couple of years. Two lots of major surgery for my wife in 3 years have fairly taken it out of her and us and its made it hard to look beyond the next week never mind months in advance.  Sorry to you folks if I haven't been able to commit.

The bike has been a great solace and racing has mainly been at a local level with some great road racing this season.  Fiona has been doing the timing for a lot of local events which has kept her involved.  She has even been back on her bike clocking up a 46 mile road ride 5 weeks after chemo.  She was pretty exhausted after but it was needed to show she can get back to some of her old sports. Without lymph glands in one arm though she is restricted when mountain biking. She's amazing.

I hope now that the dust has settled a little to be able to take back on a bit more work.  A new beacon park setup for Glencoe Mountain and maybe some training for patrollers this winter and some off piste and avalanche training for BASP associates.  Alpine and touring I hope to be able to put folk over to Infinty Mountain Guides so they will be in good hands.  I have become one of BASP's three reps to FIPS on avalanche for ski patrollers.  Not sure where that will go but quite a lot of big names in the avalanche world in Canada might be involved so we need to have our shit together. I don't think this will take up much if any of my time other than a trip to Canada in two years.

I will be contacting MR teams and other groups in the next while to give them offers on beacons and back country rescue kit and off course Dynafit.  In the mean time here are three links worth a look to remind ourselves of the consequences of complacency and cognitive or thinking traps and how when shit happens its life changing  for survivors. As an ex MR and pro patroller I must have dug out a couple of dozen fatalities and not given it a huge amount of thought at the time although a couple of incidents are imprinted. One because it was tragic and one because the rescue was a cock up and mistakes were almost literally buried.

I guess many of the survivors of avalanches I have been at will have and will still be going through this survivor guilt as I think the folks in the film will be.  It's very poignant that there is a woman locally who moved to the area after her husband, son and his best friend were all buried in an avalanche and killed and she moved here to be near where their happiest times were. I guess I think about this stuff more now, knowing that surviving something doesn't mean its all over. I guess some of the mental boxes of stuff locked away from these tragic avalanche events can be opened now and looked at by me and some of the shit needs a good airing to see whats to learn.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Indian Summer & Winter Around The Corner

Bridge of Coe

Glorious weather and time for an "off season".  36 races this past 7 months including some 96 + milers so I am feeling my age and tired. We had a great week in London and it's been nice to come back to such nice balmy weather.  Long walks watching the last of the salmon running and enjoying the autumn colors along with the odd easy run to keep my legs working.
Real Time MRT at Work in Tromso x 4 Buried
Now is time to for me to think ahead to the coming ski season and avalanche & off piste training.  I have a new wireless beacon park on the way from the states for Glencoe Mountain who have hosted the first UK on snow one for 3 years.  BCA avlx kit continues to be developing and in my opinion is the best kit available.  This years "Float" air bag systems are light and reliable and very good value.  

I was invited to join the faculty for avalanche for Scottish MR but sadly find that I simply don't have the time to give them at the moment due to work and family commitments. I might manage the odd lecture for them but can't help on their courses. I wish them well though as they have come a long way with training.  My lecture commitments are less as time is less, but I am doing one local one on avalanche at the Clachaig in Feb 2013 sponsored by Mammut. I also represent ski patrol (along with Keith and Bill) on the new avalanche faculty for FIPS but this won't mean much work until the next congress in Canada.
Ripping the powder - with an airbag!
Myself and a few other pro level avalancher's and skiers continue to benefit from our ambassador roles for Anatom and Dynafit promoting this top brand, skiing the excellent kit and hopefully giving something back to Anatom who have done a lot for mountain safety by providing the beacon parks at Glenmore, Glencoe and Nevis Range.  For you folks out there wanting Freeride kit its time to let me know as orders are going in.  Dynafit is the very best and lightest and for off piste safety you just can't beat BCA kit.  Rescuers maybe need to upgrade to the BCA SAR range of probes and shovels for prolonged searching. If your into the real steep and deep then you need "Preachers" from Whitedot.  A couple of us locally are in "dots dozen" and can vouch for these fat boys.

Stay Safe
Give me a call if you need anything

Monday, 1 October 2012

Lord of the Lochs

Some good results from the local riders with the lads doing a great time on the long course and Ben and I deciding to rip it up and go for a fast time on the 96 mile course.  Both courses have lots of climbing with Ben and I clocking 4,500 ft.  A nice way to end a great season on a well run local event put on by No Fuss Events and Chain Reaction Cycles.