NSAW, the Northwest Snow and Avalanche Workshop, was held in late October. As usual, the event was excellent and is a great way to jump start your avalanche safety brain for the season.
NWAC recorded all of the presentations this year and recently posted them on their YouTube channel. All of the presentations are high quality and worth your time, but I wanted to suggest one presentation in particular that I think offers a lot of food for thought for backcountry skiers regarding decision making.
Making the Call – Keep it Simple and Come Home Alive
Colin Zacharias, ACMG/IFMGA mountain guide and professional avalanche safety educator presented about keeping our decision making process simple in an effort to come home alive. Zacharias raises several accident incidents as examples and goes on to discuss fundamental big picture safety ideas like knowing how to recognize unstable conditions and challenging our assumptions with what ifs to help make safe terrain decisions. Looking at his sample incidents, he talks about how skiers can be myopic in their focus, especially with snow stability test, and over-confident in understanding uncertainty, especially related to familiar terrain. He further cautions against using snow stability tests to determine a slope’s likelihood to slide. Snowpack tests can be effective in locating the “problem(s)” of concern in the snowpack but there is a lot more uncertainty in making site-specific decisions about likelihood – in other words use snowpacks to define instability, not to predict stability.
His 30-minute presentation offers valuable insights into how a seasoned avalanche safety professional thinks about snow, stability and the human decision making process.