Sunday, 11 January 2015

Hindsight bias in avalanche incidents

Following yesterdays post, a number of comments (on other social media) prompted me to go and dig out a really interesting video on hindsight bias (see below).

The basic premise is that 99% of avalanche incidents, when viewed with posterity, are blindingly obvious. It is very easy to fall into a judgmental point of view "Why the heck did they ski THAT slope?", "Why did they stop THERE?", "They were stupid!". Yet prior to the incident it clearly wasn't so glaringly obvious that it was going to happen and people made a decision to ski the slope the way they did.

To get back to the 5 Jan avalanche - and I am not in any way connected to the group in the video - here are a couple of extra thoughts in response to some of the comments I have read:

- the entry to the Foglietta north face is rocky and 'clean' paths in are few and far between (this is not obvious from the vid) so it is not uncommon for skiers to be following a single track on to the face
- the top pitch of the face is approx 400m vertical to the first really big flat area (what might be considered a really good island of safety. Groups have the following dilemma (particularly for groups led by a professional): do they just drop in and ski the whole face one at a time, or try to find regrouping points that are as safe as possible at reasonable intervals? If an instructor or guide skis the whole pitch and then a client has a problem first turn, then they have a long skin back up to help them out.

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