April 20th, 2019

Avalanche Research Program Seeks Feedback from Backcountry Users of All Experience Levels

Simon Fraser University’s Avalanche Research Program (SARP) has just launched a new project in collaboration with Avalanche Canada and several US Avalanche Forecasting centres which is seeking to improve public avalanche risk communication in North America.

Through the use of an interactive online survey, the SARP team has set out to examine the ways in which backcountry recreationists access avalanche safety information to manage risk in the mountains. In order to have the most meaningful impact on the backcountry community, the researchers are keenly hoping to recruit participation from the entire spectrum of bulletin users and after the first 3 weeks of action, currently those with less experience are underrepresented.

If you’d like to skip the details and go straight to the survey to help out, here’s the link:

You could win up to $500 cash for participating and feel good knowing that you’re helping improve avalanche safety where you live and ride.

Avalanche Safety Information Study

Having a clear understanding of how recreationists consume and incorporate avalanche safety information into the planning of their backcountry explorations is a critical component of designing effective avalanche risk communication messages. Yet there has been little research to date that has specifically sought to examine the information processing behaviours of those heading into the mountains in the winter. Through the use of a series of interactive survey questions, the SARP team is hoping to identify opportunities for making avalanche risk communication products more effectively resonate with recreationists and more constructively assist in informed decision-making.

The research is headed by Dr. Pascal Haegeli who runs the Simon Fraser University Avalanche Research Program up on Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia. “We are particularly interested in the perspective of people who use the bulletin less frequently and/or might just be starting their backcountry career. It’s their perspective that will be critical for making existing products more accessible. Hence, it is important to highlight that we are interested in everybody’s perspective regardless of experience and activity. This is really the crux of our study”. The team is working in close collaboration with Karl Klassen and Avalanche Canada, who are funding the research. Several US forecast providers (including the National Avalanche Center and CAIC) have also had input.

Last year, two masters students in the SARP lab, Anne St Clair and Henry Finn, conducted a series of in-depth qualitative interviews with backcountry users of all different experience levels and activity types. The objective of this survey is to evaluate whether some of the themes that emerged in those interviews are present across a broader sample of the backcountry population. “While it’s certainly interesting whether or not people understand and can recall the information that’s presented in avalanche bulletins,” said Finn, “what is much more informative is whether or not they can apply that information correctly and make trip planning decisions that are safe.”

“We’re extremely grateful to all the people who contributed to the construction of some really thought-provoking and engaging survey questions and it’s been very gratifying indeed to see how many of the participants so far have voiced their support for research of this kind.”

Avalanche Research Survey-2

The survey has only been live since the beginning of April, but the research team is already seeing some interesting patterns in terms of which parts of the bulletin users are able to digest and utilize, and which parts seem to cause the most problems and confusion. It’s exactly these sorts of insights that will ultimately enable the production of enhanced risk communication messages that are more closely matched to the needs and preferences of the backcountry community in the future.

Avalanche Research Survey Avalanche Bulletin

Please consider taking 30 minutes out of your day to help improve avalanche safety for all backcountry users in North America by completing the survey here:

Not only is the survey an important opportunity for sledders and other backcountry users to have their say in how bulletins are made in the future, but the team has further incentivized backcountry users to participate by offering 6 cash prizes, the largest of which is $500.


– MS