Human aspects of avalanche risk management


Winter backcountry recreation in mountainous terrain has seen a tremendous increase in popularity in recent years. Every winter, more and more people are enjoying the mountains including backcountry skiers and snowboarders, mountain snowmobilers, snowshoers, mountaineers and ice climbers. However, recreating in the winter backcountry comes with serious risks. In Europe and North America, approximately 140 people die in snow avalanches every winter. 

To safely recreate in avalanche terrain, recreationists must continuously monitor the severity of avalanche hazard and make informed decisions about what type of terrain is acceptable to travel in under the current conditions. However, decision-making in avalanche terrain is a complex process that involves evaluating a variety of factors, such as weather, snowpack stability, terrain, and group dynamics. Communicating avalanche risk is challenging because perceived risk can be more heavily influenced by contextual factors than by the technical risk indicators used by experts. In addition, avalanches are low-probability events with potentially catastrophic consequences. Users therefore rarely receive relevant feedback on the quality of their decisions (i.e., a wicked learning environment). Finally, the population of recreational users of avalanche terrain display substantial heterogeneity, both in their level of avalanche assessment skills and in their attitudes to risk and uncertainty.

To better assist recreationists in making meaningful avalanche risk management decisions that match with their context,  it is critical to understand how backcountry  recreationalists decide when and how to venture into avalanche terrain, both from a societal perspective and from a tourism perspective. More specifically, it is important to understand what kind of information recreationalists seek out, how they understand that information, and what they do with the information that they have. To improve decision-making quality, it is further important to gain knowledge on the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for seeking out avalanche terrain, and how experiences affect risk perception, risk preferences, and skill acquisition. 

Guest editors

  • Andrea Mannberg, Professor, PhD, UiT the Arctic University of Norway
  • Pascal Haegeli, Associate Professor, PhD, Simon Fraser University
  • Philip Ebert, Professor, PhD, University of Stirling

Manuscript submission information

The special issue on human aspects of avalanche risk management welcomes submissions based on papers accepted to the 2024 International Snow Science Workshop (ISSW). We welcome submissions on qualitative and quantitative research projects as well as theoretical contributions and simulation studies that offer new insight on the human aspects of avalanche risk management and help advance existing debates within the field. All papers need to clearly articulate how their research results can be used to improve avalanche safety in practical ways.

Papers included in the special issue need to be distinctly different from the conference papers accepted to ISSW 2024 proceedings. All papers need to be of  a high scientific quality: research questions should be clear, answerable. The methodology employed should be adequate and competently carried out, and clearly described. Finally, the conclusions should be consistent with the results of the analysis. 

The special issue of JORT will be open for submissions from September 30th, 2024.

The deadline for submissions is March 15th, 2025.