In avalance education, new focus on human factors

Jan 21 2013 - 3:10pm


SNOQUALMIE PASS, Wash. -- Steve Hamill first ventured into the backcountry three years ago, drawn by a desire to be in the woods during the winter. But it was an unnerving encounter with a small avalanche that eventually drove the 52-year-old clinical engineer to a three-day course this month to learn how to survive in avalanche terrain.

Hamill is among a growing number of people seeking solitude, untouched powder and outdoor thrills.

But as more recreationists head into untracked wilderness -- outside resort boundaries and ski patrols -- experts say more accidents are inevitable. So avalanche educators are finding new ways to help recreationists keep out of danger, including borrowing an approach pilots use to communicate.

Where backcountry safety education once stressed the mechanics of avalanches and snow science, training courses now incorporate a focus on human factors such as how to make better decisions, manage group dynamics and speak up should danger arise.

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