fbpx
Category

Avalanche awareness

Mindfulness in helping correct heuristic decision making while in avalanche terrain

By | Alpine Rescue, Avalanche awareness, mindfulness, Winter | No Comments

Abstract:

There is evidence that supports the theory that people allow unconscious heuristics to steer their decision making. Although people are able to make methodical decisions they tend not to and use heuristic unconscious rules to make shortcuts. This has often been referred to as auto-pilot decision making. We use auto-pilot thinking and habituation to help us speed up daily decision making to ease an already complex life.

In this article, a suggestion that mindfulness practice and application of mindfulness inquiries could challenge habitual heuristic decision making.

Introduction:

In many cases, avalanche victims had allowed habitual unconscious heuristics to steer their decisions with serious consequences.

In teaching avalanche awareness historically the focus has been on the snow, the terrain the snow lies on and weather. Although these are important key areas, in recent years the focus has shifted onto the human, that ultimately makes the decision, what has been termed the “human factor” and increasingly how the individual operates within a group (group dynamic). Several studies have suggested a more rigorous teaching of how the individual’s decision making and more importantly there role in the group should be taught in avalanche awareness courses. Hard skills, snow knowledge, terrain analysis and weather interpretation had traditionally been taught as a priority as they are solid hard facts that are often easier to teach than soft skills like self-reflection and group dynamics. It requires the instructor to be competent at self-reflection and see truthfully how their unconscious behaviour reflects in their decision making.

Habitual unconscious heuristic:

Six heuristic traps have been identified: Familiarity, Consistency, Acceptance, The Expert Halo, Social Facilitation and Scarcity (Ian McCammon Sept. 30 – Oct 4, 2002 – Evidence of heuristic traps in recreational avalanche accidents). The application of mindfulness in decision making could help to challenge heuristic thinking, see bias and allow for a more informative impartial decision-making process.

The role of mindfulness is to allow the participant within a group to see their decisions clearly, see biases or personal traits that may steer their ability to see the truth.

Example:
Analysis of available avalanche victim statistics suggests an experienced back-country skier has the same risk index as an inexperienced back-country skier when traveling in familiar terrain. In this case, the experienced skier falls into the heuristic trap of familiarity. Often experienced skiers choose familiar terrain when the avalanche risk is higher as they feel because they are familiar with the terrain it will make the journey safer. It is possible that this skier because they feel the terrain is familiar, don’t look at other key avalanche indicators as carefully as they would while skiing in unknown terrain. There are many things at play here. After a storm, when the snow can be at its most unstable conversely the skiing can be of good quality. For keen back-country skiers, getting the first tracks in fresh soft snow (powder fever) is a must, it gives status and a good feeling of floating in the powder. The skier can, therefore, fall into several heuristic traps. In this example, we have covered familiarity, we also see “scarcity”, the feeling that this is a chance in a lifetime, it won’t happen again. This is a deep-seated feeling and is very strong emotional triggers can form. Mindfulness could help the skier see that this strong feeling isn’t necessarily true. Othe heuristic traps are “acceptance”. This is especially true of the individual within the group, where the group progressively accepts the risk, or blank it out collectively. Again mindfulness could help the skier see they are allowing themselves to be dragged along by the group dynamic, rather than pointing out avalanche risk facts. “Social Facilitation” is another heuristic trap that can be followed. How the individual operates in the group, how they steer it or act as in silent acceptance is a complex and often culturally driven. Depending on the makeup of the group people may feel they don’t have the right to raise questions or disagree with the group’s decision.

In this example if the skier was willing and open to mindfulness training there is a possibility for a more impartial decision-making process in avalanche terrain and that in turn makes for a safer journey.

In Practice:

The running of a traditional 2,5 days avalanche awareness course within the framework of mindfulness practice.

Requirements: 4 participants to 1 instructor. Groups should be kept small to allow better contact between students and instructors.

Quantifying results:

1) Asking participants on a standard avalanche awareness course and a mindfulness-based avalanche awareness course to participate in a questionnaire, prior to the course, during the course, at the end of the course and at a period after the course.
2) Asking participants who have undertaken standard avalanche awareness to participate in a mindfulness-based avalanche awareness course and to undertake a questionnaire, prior to the course, during the course, at the end of the course and at a period after the course.

Analyse the results to see if the key heuristic traps have been challenged and if the thought process in decision-making has been challenged.

Challenges:

The challenges are discussed as preconception of mindfulness, meaningful quantifying of results and to find enough participants to make meaningful analysis.

The mindfulness challenge:

Preconceptions about what is mindfulness. These have been well described by Dr Chris Goto-Jones as the scientist, the monk, the Ninja, the zombie, and the hippy as illustrations of the 5 main preconceptions of mindfulness.

Western culture has an increasing dislike of religion and many see mindfulness as Buddhism by the back door. Even secular mindfulness instructors and text refer to an eastern religious text and often use a traditional metal bowl or bell to define the start and end of meditation classes. The focus group for the mindfulness avalanche awareness course are to a certain extent focused on material goods (skis, clothes) and there is a festival and social media culture (acceptance) within this activity. Mindfulness may be seen as something smothering this fun.

Scheme and questionnaires challenges:

1) Creation of schemes within the questionnaires would require careful consideration so to be able to extract meaningful results.
2) Obtaining enough samples.
3) Motivating continued participation with the questionnaires after the course would be challenging.
4) Identifying bias in answers. i.e. people giving answers they feel they should rather than telling the truth.

Meaningful results:

1) There may just not be enough samples to form a meaningful result set.
2) Guides and instructors are renowned for saying the right thing about avalanches, and then not actually carrying out this in practice.
3) Challenging a culture can be difficult.

Sampling area:

Apart from running the course myself, that would give a small sample size, other providers of avalanche courses could be asked there practisants to fill in the questionnaires to get a larger sample size. This would form unless the other providers were willing to run mindfulness-based avalanche awareness courses, traditional avalanche courses and form a control to see if any changes in heuristic decision making had been made.

Summary:

Decision making in avalanche terrain has many challenges for the individual not only do they need the hard skills to identify hazards, but they also need a good level of awareness of there decision-making ability. When humans come to make decisions, especially when it directly involves something they enjoy and motivated, like off-piste skiing, they are often poor decision makers, often allow habitual unconscious heuristics to steer them. In the case of ski-touring in avalanche terrain heuristics, especially when looking at group dynamics is forming the most vital clue to why people continue to travel into hazardous areas when the signs of an avalanche are apparent.

Challenges of implementing mindful base decision making into mainstream recreation avalanche courses could be challenging as providers and instructors might have an unwillingness to change course philosophy unless it was a complete cultural change within the off-piste community. Unwillingness for participants to engage in mindfulness-based avalanche courses as they may be unwilling to challenge there own preconception of mindfulness. In this case, when considering changing a philosophy within the off-piste skiing community, it may be prudent to bring mindfulness through the back door under a different name.

Course in focus: Winter Mountaineering Course – Foundation (6,5 days)

By | Avalanche awareness, crampons, Ice climbing, Ice climbing in Valdres, Mountaineering skills, Norway, Winter, Winter mountaineering course | No Comments

Adventures in winter are always special.  There is something very pure and majestic about winter time in Norway, with the frozen landscape revealing itself as a still and harsh beauty.

To travel through this frozen landscape is always a changing experience; it is unique, each year the snow formations are different, week by week, day by day and often in a single hour everything can change.

This 6,5 days course is a foundation course and perfect for people with some summer mountaineering experience who wish to venture into the snowy Norwegian landscape.

Accommodation is provided at Landsrud Cottage. Food is prepared together with the cost and cleaning shared. Transport is provided during the course.  Travel to the Norway and from the airport to the course location is not provided.

Day 1: Evening meeting at 18

Accommodation at Landsrud cottage.

  • Presentation of instructor and participants.
  • Discussion on expectations / summary of the week to come.
  • Equipment check

Day 2:  Short tour day, preparation, avalanche awareness and buddy rescue

The day’s primary goal is to get to know each other, check what equipment works and what doesn’t work, planning and how to avoid getting caught in an avalanche.

This day will cover:

  • Planning;  Weather, avalanche bulletins, understanding terrain and its consequences, what to pack, what to wear and what to eat and drink. Discussion on the “human factor” and how it steers the individual and the group”
  • Usage of skis or snowshoes while travelling
  • Avalanche rescue; How to use the equipment (transceivers, snow probes and shovels), how to organise an effective rescue as a single person and as part of a team
  • Travelling in avalanche terrain:  Identification of avalanche terrain (avalanche traps, potentially dangerous slopes, group travel discipline (when going up and when going down)
  • Snow knowledge: Getting a sense of snow, identification of potentially dangerous snow formations, crystals and layers and how humans can trigger avalanches. Learning snow test to quantify potential avalanche risk.

Evening: discussion on the day and planning for the next.

 

Day 3: Climbing day: Learning how to climb in winter

The primary goal of this day is to get an appreciation of climbing in winter; how to use crampons on snow, ice and mixed terrain and the safe usage of ropes in ascent and descent.

  • How to use crampons and axes:  how to use the equipment on snow, ice and mixed terrain
  • How to use a rope in ascent:  Knots, setting up belays in snow or ice, setting up top ropes belays in different settings and principles of multi-pitch climbing
  • How to use a rope in descent: Abseiling on snow and ice. Setting up descent belays, ice threads and snow abseils
  • Climbing: Ice climbing techniques, with and without axes

Evening: discussion on the day and planning for the next.

 

Day 4: Tour day: Starting with planning and checking weather, avalanche risk and terrain

The day’s primary goal is to put what we learnt on the previous days into action with a focus on navigation, mountaineering / easy climbing over several rope lengths and staying safe.

  • How to navigate: Getting lost and re-finding yourself.  Usage of map, compass and GPS
  • Continue with the identification of the avalanche risk: identification of different crystals and layers in the snow profile, identification of avalanche terrain and its consequence.

Evening: discussion on the day and planning for the next.

 

Day 5: Getting to know snow/avalanche and rescue

The primary focus of this day is to gain more knowledge about snow conditions and avalanche awareness with a focus on the human factor and your role in the group.

  • Short tour with focus on avalanche evaluation; snow profiles and assessing risk
  • Emergency snow shelters; how to build quick and fast.
  • Buddy rescue: If everything goes crazy and you get taken by an avalanche.

Evening: discussion on the day and planning for the next.

 

Day 6: Mountaineering day

This day is about putting what you have learned during the week into action.  By this time the group will be taking more responsibility and making more decisions in planning the tour, evaluating avalanche risk and deciding which route to take.

The group will be presented with several mountaineering objectives and they will decide, plan and execute the trip.

The instructors will only step in if they feel the group has made a hazardous decision.

 

Day 7:  Open day

Participants can decide on a days ice climbing or more snow evaluation (digging in the snow)

Booking enquiry
close slider

Booking Enquiry

What course(s) are you interested in?

Avalanche courseMountaineeringAlpine skillsMountain mentoringIce climbingOther

Do you want accommodation with us?

YesNo