Montana Avalanche Death

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Montana Avalanche Death

Postby Bob » Sat Oct 14, 2017 10:14 am

On October 7, 2017 there was a tragic avalanche on Imp Peak in Montana. The Montana Avalanche Center Report is linked here, and well worth reading:
http://www.mtavalanche.com/accident/17/10/12

A woman was killed in the slide, and her partner, unable to save her, apparently was overcome with grief and later took his own life. There a few take-away lessons for all winter backcountry travelers. The first and foremost thing is that the victim's beacon was turned off and in her pack. I don't know if the pair was lulled by early season conditions but I've tried to remember this saying for beacon use "On in the car, off in the bar." The partner had a beacon, shovel, and probe but those are of no help if the victim's beacon isn't turned on and secured.

Otherwise, with 20/20 hindsight, it looks like prime avy conditions existed there - fresh new snow overlaying an old layer, and wind loading.

As the local snow season approaches, I hope we all remember and review our avalanche knowledge and training as we get ready to venture out. Safe backcountry season travels everyone!

* Edited to correct the date
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Re: Montana Avalanche Death

Postby Rick » Mon Oct 16, 2017 1:24 pm

Keep in mind that the 2 skiers involved in this avalanche were both experienced mountaineers. This highlights the fact that we always need to respect the human factors that contribute to avalanches. As I've thought about this recent avalanche fatality, I wonder whether human factors linked to familiarity, the expert halo, social facilitation, and scarcity may have contributed to the accident. While we can't interview either skier involved, it's worth considering how various human factors and heuristic traps impact our own decision making in avalanche terrain. Do we enter sketchy terrain because we've done it a hundred times before? Do we ignore our own perception of the risk because the expert in the group seems to be ignoring it? Do we fail to speak up about our own perception of risk in order to go along with the group? Do we justify more risk during the early season because we've been itching to ski powder all summer long?

These heuristic traps can be dangerous, and we need to understand when we are falling into them.

Note: As a correction, this avalanche occurred on October 7, 2017.
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Re: Montana Avalanche Death

Postby Jasper » Mon Oct 16, 2017 9:29 pm

If anybody wants to learn the International Comission for Alpine Rescue standard for transceiver checks let me know. It just takes a couple of minutes and verifies that everybody in the group is transmitting, recieving, and has functional audio and visuals all while mitigating the bias that ones own transceiver is flawless. Im available for the next two or three weeks. If we get a group of at least 3 or 4 people we could run through it in about 30 minutes.
Go when the going is good.
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Re: Montana Avalanche Death

Postby Bob » Tue Oct 17, 2017 8:39 pm

Rick wrote:Keep in mind that the 2 skiers involved in this avalanche were both experienced mountaineers. This highlights the fact that we always need to respect the human factors that contribute to avalanches. As I've thought about this recent avalanche fatality, I wonder whether human factors linked to familiarity, the expert halo, social facilitation, and scarcity may have contributed to the accident. While we can't interview either skier involved, it's worth considering how various human factors and heuristic traps impact our own decision making in avalanche terrain. Do we enter sketchy terrain because we've done it a hundred times before? Do we ignore our own perception of the risk because the expert in the group seems to be ignoring it? Do we fail to speak up about our own perception of risk in order to go along with the group? Do we justify more risk during the early season because we've been itching to ski powder all summer long?

These heuristic traps can be dangerous, and we need to understand when we are falling into them.

Your questions above are actually excellent points. Once we've learned, or discovered, crucial risk mitigation procedures the next step is to learn as much as we can about human factors and heuristic traps so that we can avoid overlooking those mitigation procedures. This is a big challenge.

Incidentally, this problem also plagues wildland firefighters, which was my previous job.

Note: As a correction, this avalanche occurred on October 7, 2017.

Ah, right - it looks like I used the date on the GNFAC report. Thanks, I'll correct my mistake.
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