ESAW – November 11, 2017

Mark your calendars for the annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop that is taking place on Saturday, November 11, 2017. We liked our hosts at Fryeburg Academy so much last year that we’re going back to the Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts Center. Check out who will be presenting:

  • Jerry Isaak, born in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, has his masters in Outdoor Education and is currently the chair of Expeditionary Studies at SUNY Plattsburgh. He has traveled the world as a guide and expedition leader for both climbing and skiing. Jerry spends much of his time studying social influences on risk tolerance levels and decision making. Please check out his paper titled Social Media and Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain which he presented at ISSW 2016 in Colorado.
  • Sarah Carpenter is currently co-owner of the American Avalanche Institute as well as one of its instructors. While not running the programs for AAI, she ski guides for Exum and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.
  • Eric Knoff has forecasted for the Gallatin Avalanche Center since 2009. He has guided for Exum, Rainer Mountaineering Inc., and Adventure Link as well as for the Khumbu Climbing School in Nepal. Eric studies snow with some of the best in Montana and as is such, will happily fill your time informing you about the cross-slope PST.
  • If you follow the weather on Mount Washington, you surely know the name Mike Carmon. Mike graduated from Rutgers in 2008 with a degree in Meteorology and immediately joined the Mount Washington Observatory team. He has been a shift leader since 2014 and a daily resource for our avalanche center.
  • In addition to those above, Frank, Ryan and Helon will also present on their hard work over the last year.

ESAW is a one-day professional development seminar for people working in avalanche safety. It provides a venue for avalanche workers to listen to presentations and discuss new ideas, techniques and technologies with their colleagues. The meeting is intended for avalanche forecasters, ski guides, avalanche education instructors, ski patrollers, students, and researchers, but the meeting is open to anyone interested in furthering their knowledge of avalanche safety. Workshops like this take place all over the country around this time of the year. This is a great opportunity to come and get ready for the upcoming winter with fellow snow geeks from around the country.

Registration for ESAW can be found at Proceeds from ESAW go toward the White Mountain Avalanche Education Fund, a non-profit designed to educate as many people as possible before they go into the mountains.

Help Wanted

We are hiring for a new Snow Ranger. The application period will be open through September 5. This opening is for a permanent, full-time position that would be part of the Avalanche Center in the winter and run the Backcountry/Wilderness program on the Androscoggin in the summer. Please contact us if you have questions.

Frank, Helon, and Ryan


Click here to see the application.


We’re looking for a new Snow Ranger….

Do you have skills that you can bring to the USFS team? The Mount Washington Avalanche Center will be advertising and filling a full-time, year round position soon. In addition to avalanche forecasting, outreach and education and SAR responsibilities during the winter and spring months, this position also manages the backcountry and wilderness program on the District. The Great Gulf, Wild River and Caribou-Speckled Wilderness areas will be among your summer time offices! See the attached outreach notice for details and email the form to me if you are interested or have further questions. -Frank

Snow Ranger_Avalanche Specialist-Backcountry_Wilderness_Outreach

Smarter, Safer Spring Skiing: Part 6

What will they think if I don’t send this line?

We all have some desire for Acceptance from our peers, and it often influences the decisions we make. This desire can vary in its source as well as how and when it manifests itself. Inevitably, it helps drive our choices when playing in the mountains. Social Acceptance is the sixth and final heuristic trap of this decision making series.

Heuristic traps, introduced in Part 1 of these human factor posts to The Pit, are mental shortcuts often resulting in common decision-making flaws that can be identified in skiers, snowboarders, climbers, and others who travel through snow covered mountains. We can’t turn them off, but we can acknowledge and actively counter these flaws. Our desire for acceptance is no exception.

The partners you ski, snowboard, or climb with are often the primary driver of the Acceptance heuristic trap. Hopefully you actually like the folks who you travel with in the mountains, so as a result maintaining their acceptance is probably of value to you. Disappointing these peers is rarely our intent, and we would often prefer to impress them. The stronger the desire to impress, the greater the influence of this heuristic trap.

New backcountry partner? You certainly want to show them your best stuff. How about someone you have a romantic interest in? Men do bold things in an attempt to impress women. While gender is not an absolute driver in this stereotypical scenario, it’s tough to ignore this glaring flaw common in male decision making. Regardless of your romantic preferences, the accidents inevitably resulting from an increase in risk taking behavior rarely impress anyone.

In a highly social and often crowded backcountry ski setting like Tuckerman Ravine, you might also be motivated to gain acceptance from people you don’t know. On busy days, this is obvious. We even have a cheering crowd. These motivations are closely tied to perceived norms of how we can and should ski or snowboard on steep slopes. As discussed in Part 5, we often look to the example others set for an indication of how to conduct ourselves. These examples might be someone you just watched ski in person, but the action sports media is another primary driver of our perceived norms. We’re inundated with footage of people pushing the envelope.

The Acceptance heuristic trap can manifest itself in a number of ways. When planning a trip, our perceived norms might influence a group to develop high-risk objectives. More importantly, you could suppress concerns about a particular plan in effort to please the others in your group. This act of not voicing a concern is problematic in the field, naturally. If you feel uneasy with a situation but don’t speak up, there is a very strong chance that desire for social acceptance is driving your behavior. Noticing a risk while staying silent and watching it happen isn’t of much benefit to anyone. This also contributes to the Commitment to a goal heuristic trap, our tendency to stick to established plans.

In the big picture, seeking acceptance can lead us to obvious hazards, like skiing a no-fall zone in bulletproof ice conditions, ripping powder turns on an avalanche prone 38 degree slope when a High danger rating has been issued, or simply hucking your meat off a big cliff. We can easily recognize these hazards, but social pressure might prevent us from speaking up or altering plans. At a more nuanced level, our desire for Acceptance might urge us towards pushing to faster speeds or choosing a more aggressive, high consequence line. FurtherFurthermore?, remember that as mental shortcuts, it’s common to be unaware of the influence of heuristic traps on any decision.

The indirect motivation for Acceptance though social media cannot be ignored. While outdated these days, the meaning behind the term “Kodak Courage” is as relevant as ever. We’ve already established our propensity to do bold things to impress just small numbers of people; impressing large numbers of people can easily provide even stronger motivation. With smartphones, cameras and direct access to social media are nearly everywhere we go. It’s tough to not record your backcountry exploits.

With potentially wide ranging sources from which we seek approval, countering the Acceptance heuristic trap requires a diverse approach. First, as always, we must acknowledge that this heuristic trap does indeed influence us, that none of us are immune to it. Second, seek to identify your specific source or sources of social pressure. Constantly question your motivation to travel in the mountains, particularly the details of how and where you like to travel. Chances are you’re not motivated by the experience alone. You probably want others to know about your Dodge’s Drop descent.

Prior to a trip, consider who you plan to travel with and associated social dynamics. Have you skied in the backcountry with them before, or are they new partners? Is it a date? It’s crucial to understand their acceptable level of risk and how it might affect yours. Accordingly, be aware of your motivation to impress these people. As plans formulate, consider the inspiration of the trip, or if you’re motivated by the photos or video that you’ll post to social media.

In the field is when your decision making flaws will play out, and these themes continue. Question how and where you are actually travelling. Are you going along with an uphill route because you don’t want to be the one to second guess another’s decision? The same can be said for the descent, or even where you take breaks. If the alarm bells are going off in your head, but you say nothing, your desire for acceptance is probably at play. Accordingly, consider your group’s communication. If limited or without much meaningful discussion of present hazards, this should serve as a warning sign. Finally, is there a camera, and what potential audience might you be trying to impress with your bold actions?

Our desire for Acceptance is just one of the six F.A.C.E.T.S. heuristic traps, each with the potential to make or break your day or even life when you ski, snowboard, or climb in the backcountry. Familiarity addresses the potential for hazards to go unnoticed when we’re in terrain we know well. Acceptance from our social peers can lead to excessively bold action. Commitment to a goal can limit ability to realize safer options. Blind trust in a more experienced partner characterizes the Expert Halo. The desire for fresh Tracks and associated scarcity of snow allows subconscious risk perception sacrifices. Finally, Social proof helps us feel safer when following the example of others, regardless of actual hazards present.

These heuristic traps should only be pieces of your human factor puzzle. This overall process of risk assessment and resulting travel decisions is essential to your longevity in the mountains, unless you’re incredibly lucky. From planning, to the up track, to the descent, and finally the beer in the parking lot, ask yourself and your group how you could be wrong. Better yet, acknowledge that you ARE wrong about some safety element and seek to discover it. Remember, we inherently look for the “Go” or “Yes” decision, otherwise we’d never leave the couch. One hundred percent safety is impossible in the backcountry, but we could all be a little safer. The art of saying “No” isn’t easy, but it might lead to the highest quantity of good skiing in the long run.

Smarter, Safer Spring Skiing: Part 5

A bunch of people already skied it… It’s pretty safe, right?

Well, maybe not. We’ve all made decisions based on this logic. A particular slope that you’ve just watched others ski without mishap might be relatively devoid of hazards, but what if those skiers were just lucky? Use of Social Proof to make decisions in the mountains is yet another heuristic trap:  a mental shortcut that helps us skiers and climbers make the “go” decisions we inherently seek.

This week’s post to The Pit will focus on our use of Social Proof, the “S” in the F.A.C.E.T.S. heuristic traps. Familiarity, Acceptance, Commitment to a goal, Expert Halo, Tracks or scarcity, and Social Proof are the six key decision making flaws we make in the mountains. Remember, none of us are immune to these particular mental shortcuts; we must acknowledge and actively counter them to minimize their influence over our decisions.

We tend to look to the example of others for clues as to how we should conduct ourselves. It’s our herding instinct. Often, this sort of decision making serves us well. If people made deadly decisions most of the time, the human population wouldn’t be growing. The reality is that some people make deadly decisions some of the time. When backcountry skiing, it’s difficult to discern which stranger is setting the best example to follow. If you do pick out who you want to follow, you’re slipping dangerously close to the Expert Halo heuristic trap. Again, think independently!

Take avalanche danger on a particular slope for example. The strength of a cohesive slab of snow and its bonding to the layer below it are not uniform across that slope. For this reason, certain points are more sensitive to a human trigger than others. It’s entirely possible and even likely in some cases that a number of people could ski an unstable slab of snow and miss these weak points. It can easily be the third, the fifth, or the tenth skier who finds the weak point and triggers the avalanche. Tracks on a slope do not equate to stability! The person scoring first tracks does have a higher likelihood of triggering an avalanche than subsequent travelers, but not by much.

The same can be said for most conditions-dependent mountain hazards. Often, through some combination of good decision making or luck, many people will travel through an area safely before conditions become just right for the big accident. This time of year, icefall exemplifies such a hazard and is present in parts of both Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines. Until the ice above Lunch Rocks comes down, anyone in that area is directly below a hazard that could easily kill numerous people in a few seconds. Lounging at Lunch Rocks is Social Proof at its finest: the more people hanging out there, the more inviting it seems to be for spring skiers, even though much safer options exist elsewhere in Tuckerman Ravine.

On top of our herding instinct potentially getting us into trouble, the presence of other people actually increases our risk taking behavior. Among other reasons for this, we feel safer around others and push the envelope a bit more. While people do have some ability to assist in the event of an accident, this isn’t much help if you’re pushing to the point of risking your life. Further, people can create additional hazard, triggering an avalanche or causing any number of things to fall down a slope, including themselves. We’re not suggesting you ski by yourself, but large groups do have the potential to cause more harm than good in a number of ways.

If you ski in Tuckerman Ravine on a sunny spring weekend, there will be plenty of other people around. Countering the Social Proof heuristic trap in this environment can be as simple as asking “Why is everyone on the left side today?” Have they actually found the best option, or can you find a better one? You don’t know their decision making process, so you have no reason to trust it. Make your own observations, use all resources available to you including your friendly Snow Ranger, and form travel decisions amongst your group based on this assessment of potential reward and risk. Don’t forget that part of the Social Proof heuristic trap is our propensity to take greater risk when there are other people around. Would you ski the same line if you were solo? What if it were just you and a friend, rather than you and a thousand other spring skiers? When will you be most at risk? Such questions can help reveal the consequences of a mistake.

Making your own unique decisions will help you manage risk, but it will also provide unique experiences in the mountains, even within the confines of a familiar ravine. That said, the route less travelled is not necessarily the safer option. Countering Social Proof by actively questioning the consensus route is only one of many tools in your decision making kit. Next time you’re out skiing or climbing, use these tools to choose the best line for you.

See you on the hill!

Annual Tuckerman Ravine Trail Closure in the Lip


Each year around this time, Lip becomes laced with crevasses and undermined snow. We close the section of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail from Lunch Rocks to its junction with the Alpine Garden Trail as a safety measure. Ascending or descending through this area now has numerous hazards that make travel through this area not worth the risk. This closure also pertains to skiers and riders. This closure only pertains to this section of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and will remain in effect until the snow disappears.

Smarter, Safer Spring Skiing: Part 4

It’s late April, low elevation snow is melting fast, and ski areas are closed, or closing soon. For many, this means that it’s Tuckerman Ravine ski season! While weather has been mixed, recently we’ve seen excellent conditions on certain days. Informed decision making remains crucial for enjoyment and relatively safety while scoring big rewards on one of these sweet days. Welcome back to The Pit and our spring decision making series!

This week, the Expert Halo heuristic trap is the focus of our series on what is known as the “human factors” To review, F.A.C.E.T.S. is the acronym which represent the heuristic traps which most commonly contribute to events that lead to an accident. Heuristic traps are the common mental shortcuts which diminish our risk perception and adversely affect associated decision making. The Expert Halo trap is simple. Most of us humans really like to place responsibility somewhere else, so what could be better than having an expert make decisions for you? Therefore, we tend to blindly trust these folks.

The Expert Halo is NOT the reluctance to voice a concern – that’s a symptom of our desire for Acceptance, a separate heuristic trap we’ll discuss in coming weeks. The Expert Halo is the reluctance to think for yourself. Allowing someone else to make decisions for you is obviously a mental shortcut, especially if your expert is providing that “Go” answer, which a backcountry skier inherently wants.

What or who is this expert? They’re usually the group leader, but not necessarily. It could be someone helping you plan a trip, a social media personality, or even an MWAC Snow Ranger. An “expert” in this case can be anyone you rely on to make decisions for you. Unfortunately, true experts are pretty hard to come by, if you can find one at all, since not one of us has a crystal ball which can make clear the outcome of your choices. We all know that no one is perfect, so ignoring your inner voice and trusting your life to the decisions of another person often seems silly in the 20/20 hindsight which follows an incident.

As skiers and riders, we’re used to decisions being handed to us, particularly here in the Northeast. Ski areas make many decisions for us. Runs are closed due to icy conditions, thin cover, rocks, cliffs, and other naturally occurring conditions. This would otherwise provide an opportunity for decision making. Particularly out west, runs are opened and closed in response to avalanche hazard and associated mitigation efforts. It’s normal for us to have some of the most consequential terrain and conditions closed to our travel.

With a few exceptions, you’re free to take limitless risk on Mount Washington. Yes, the Lion Head Summer Trail and the Tuckerman Ravine Trail high in the ravine have seasonal closure signs posted in response to present hazards, but we largely DO NOT make risk-related decisions for you. You’re free to ski and climb any snow, ice, or rock. Remember, “Low” avalanche danger does not mean “No” avalanche danger! Our Avalanche Advisories and the other conditions information we make available are valuable resources to inform the decisions YOU make.

One way the Snow Ranger team sees the Expert Halo manifested is in the questions visitors ask us. A question like, “I should be OK skiing Left Gully today, right?” is not uncommon. We can’t make this decision for you of course. If you’re asking such questions, it’s OK! You’re making an effort to better inform yourself. While we can’t and won’t make decisions for you, we’re happy to help you understand current hazards and their consequences.

Actively seeking to inform yourself is crucial to countering the Expert Halo heuristic trap. As always, acknowledge that you probably can’t turn this flaw off, but increasing your awareness of significant risks should turn your critical decision making brain on. If you have any sense of self-preservation, that is.

To further counter this heuristic trap, identify who YOUR expert or experts are. Who do you trust completely? There’s almost certainly someone in this category. If your expert is a trusted backcountry partner, they should appreciate your efforts to think for yourself. If they don’t, get a new partner. Accordingly, don’t be the expert, no matter how good it makes you feel to be held in this esteem! If you think you might be your group’s expert or de facto leader, actively voice skepticism of your own ideas. Even better, draw out the rest of your group to voice their perception of present risk.

The bottom line: Everyone’s opinion is valuable, and that includes you!

The Risky Business of Avalanche Problems

Social media has been alive and bristling with opinions on last weekend’s avalanche cycle. Rather than join that fray, on social media anyway, I thought I would share a few thoughts here from the perspective of an avalanche forecaster, former guide, and rescuer. Friday night, March 31, we received 12 inches of snow on light easterly winds above treeline. This snow created an unusual avalanche problem for us around here that differed greatly from the more typical wind slab problem we deal with so much of the time.  The storm slab avalanche problem present on April 1 set the stage for a number of close calls and for a number of different reasons.

I use the term avalanche “problem” in its technical sense as defined by snow scientists and forecasters around the country, and at this point around the avalanche forecasting world. In a pivotal 2004 paper  Roger Atkins, a veteran forecaster for a Canadian heliski operation, identified and defined a dozen  or so different avalanche problems as a way to clarify and provide guidance to those managing risk in avalanche terrain. Around the same time, American forecasters were revising the avalanche danger scale while also tackling the important work of addressing the nature of avalanche types in terms of size, distribution, and likelihood of triggering. Travel advice which each danger rating should include was also updated.

This process of defining properties of avalanches points to some critical concepts. The character of each avalanche type, as well as its size and distribution, directly affects your choice of terrain and how you manage it. If it doesn’t affect your terrain choice and management, it should, because certain avalanche problems can be assessed and mitigated while others may be more a roll of the dice. For example, a moderate rating on a slope with a dry loose problem presents a very different hazard than a deep but low rated persistent slab problem. I may ski the edges of a slope when a loose dry problem is present, with a plan to occasionally pull out and let my sluff pass me. Alternately, a big slope with a persistent slab problem may have me thinking about staying in the center of the slope, on the thickest part of the slab, in order to increase my odds of avoiding a thin spot which is the most probable trigger point. Both avalanche types can kill me, and each has a dynamic management strategy.

The avalanche problems last weekend required a much different risk management strategy than our more typical stubborn wind slab. A storm slab, which consists of barely cohesive slab with poor bonding to the layer below, can create ideal skiing opportunities in the right terrain. The critical detail in the last sentence is “in the right terrain”. One thing most folks with some advanced avalanche education, training, or experience could tell you is that 12” of new snow of an upside down nature on a 35+ degree slope presents an avalanche mitigation problem. Depending on your level of experience and risk tolerance, you could take a ski patroller or guide’s approach and ski cut a slope to release the avalanche. In a storm slab or loose avalanche problem this is reasonable, with a few caveats:

  • You are an expert and have done this before.
  • You have a bailout plan and an island of safety at the end of your ski cut.
  • You are confident that you can self-arrest on the bed surface if you fall down.
  • You are confident that the nature of the avalanche problem is such that the slope will crack at your feet or below, AND NOT ABOVE YOU.
  • If you are 100% confident in your assessment, step back and reflect on the nature of the universe and your role in it. If you have some uncertainty, that’s good. The resulting humility may keep you alive longer.
  • You are using safe travel practices including no one below you on the slope, skiing one at a time, and pitching the slope out in such a way that partners have eyes on the skier as well as the runout.

Two folks skinning up Hillman’s. They moved straight up into the hangfire of the looker’s left fork just before dropping into and triggering Duchess. Note that the right fork had slid earlier that morning which created the crown/stauchwall that you can see in the picture above the skiers.

Last weekend, it was fairly clear in most cases that folks were not applying many of the above concepts. The person that triggered Right Gully was alone though oddly criticized for going back up the slope to search for his pole lost while he was carried downslope. At that point, the slope was drained making the bed surface there one of the safest places to be. The party that triggered the Duchess placed no ski cut at all and made two turns center of slope in the drop in before the slope released. That was after center-punching up Hillman’s directly into fresh hangfire. The party that triggered Lobster Claw was together on the slope near the top and may or may not have understood how ugly and potentially unsurvivable the terrain trap is at the bottom. These are all big travel or terrain choice risks that can be mitigated or avoided. An experienced party triggered upper right Hillman’s from the top and with a somewhat formulated plan reduce the consequences of triggering but were admittedly surprised at the results of their ski cut. Yet another party in Gulf of Slides ski cut and triggered two avalanches, which they expected. It is likely that these groups were driven partly by the classic Scarcity heuristic. It is really hard to say no to 12” of powder. Really hard.

Our terrain is in itself a red flag due to its steepness. Thirty-five plus degree slopes present a lot of challenges to mitigating avalanche dangers and reducing exposure to risk when travelling as a small group. Rollovers obscure the view of the slope and skier below, few islands of safety exist in or near start zones, and choke points in gullies force a climber into the avalanche path. These are not insurmountable problems though they do require careful planning and discussion when figuring out a plan of attack. Group size and ability, weather, and avalanche size and character should dictate this plan of attack.

An avalanche forecast provides information about the size and character of an avalanche by identifying the avalanche problem whenever possible and when our confidence level in our assessment is high. It is critical to consider the avalanche character or problem as one of the most important factors when choosing where and when to travel. Equally important is to consider the cautionary remarks of veteran avalanche professional Don Sharaf, who recently studied the things that kill avalanche pros. “Don’t cheat the avalanche problem,” was one of the points he made to the audience at the 2016 ISSW. In other words, plans based on assumptions of the avalanche character can go completely sideways if your assumption is wrong. You can only get lucky a finite number of times before a mistake leads to disaster.

It’s probably useful to understand that my perspective on last week’s cycle is shaped by a relatively high personal risk tolerance which I likely share with everyone out skiing that day. I rock climb, sometimes soloing low fifth class terrain, and go skiing when red flags and signs of instability are apparent. Like some that day, I use terrain to my advantage on elevated danger days. But I always, and I mean always, wear a beacon, and often an airbag pack, carry rescue gear, and never travel alone in avalanche terrain when unstable snow is an issue. The Friday evening prior to this snowfall, while looking at low wind speeds and copious snowfall, I was actively engaged in a battle with my skiing desire. My emotions and desire tried to convince me that a 40 degree slope would be a reasonable target in the morning. In the end, reason won out over my emotions and I realized that low angle slopes would be the more appropriate and safer option. Indeed, I got a nice lap in that afternoon on the low angled slope next to the runout of Lobster Claw. Not a GoPro worthy hero run, but pretty darned fun.

For obvious reasons, I have a much lower risk tolerance when at work or when making decisions for others in elevated risk environments. I also understand and frequently remind myself that being wrong about the nature of the avalanche problem only needs to happen once, and being wrong once can kill me or a friend. I had the misfortunate of being caught and carried when what I thought would be a manageable sluff turned into a wet slab that broke upslope behind me. In that case, I only received minor injuries and a broken ski several miles into the backcountry but the subsequent reflection on the experience made for a great learning opportunity.  I’ve been involved in enough other avalanche incidents to understand that skiing and climbing are very dangerous games. Part of my strategy to remain alive and kicking is to be honest with myself when reflecting on risks. Whether I was right or whether I was just lucky is the question I ask myself at the end of every day I’m out in the field, now more than ever.


Smarter, Safer Spring Skiing: Part 2

Scarcity. Snow is our resource, and it’s limited.

As introduced last week, our mountain decision making is clouded by heuristic traps. To explain a bit further, “heuristics” are mental shortcuts we all use to process complex situations. They aren’t bad, they’re actually necessary. Mental shortcuts are often necessary in our not-so-simple lives. However, when we’re skiing or climbing and inherently looking for the “go” decisions which we prefer, heuristic traps lead us to mental flaws. Shortcuts help us feel good about doing what we really want to do. Shredding the gnar or sending that route is way more fun than staying mellow, and mellow skiing is better than sitting on the couch. Wait… is it?

While a few folks truly enjoy fearing for their lives, most of us probably prefer to believe that we’ll make it through the day. That’s where these heuristic traps, or F.A.C.E.T.S., come in. As mentioned in Part 1, they help people “feel good” about high-risk situations. We’d rather not notice a level of risk with high potential to take our lives, so we process information accordingly, effectively missing clues that we’re in over our heads. The fun you and I have skiing a consequential line or climbing a sketchy route is often because we perceive lower risk than actually exists. For the same reason, the comfort we feel when skiing a “safe” slope might not be based on reality.

If you stay home on the couch pounding ice cream (a worthwhile pursuit, without question), heart disease will probably get you sooner than you would like. Don’t stop playing in the mountains, but work to continually improve your perception of risk. Remember that Familiarity, Acceptance, Commitment to a goal, Expert halo, Tracks/scarcity, and Social proof are key heuristic traps leading to flawed decision making in the mountains. We can’t turn them off, but we can actively counter them.

The influence of Tracks, or Scarcity, is ever present for us skiers. This heuristic trap is characterized by the human tendency to value opportunities in proportion to how easily they might be lost. Of course, a powder day epitomizes this phenomenon. The opportunity for fresh tracks is scarce. C’mon, we intentionally make plenty of sacrifices to ski pow, don’t you think we might be making a few subconsciously as well? Missing clues that we’re in or approaching an unsafe situation are part of what defines good ‘ol powder fever. Obviously, we’ll go to great lengths to get first tracks. With at least some snow and wind in the forecast, this weekend could provide such an opportunity.

In the springtime, particularly in Tuckerman Ravine, most folks don’t mind tracks on a slope. However, a scarce opportunity is still present: Summer will soon end our beloved ski season. It’s now or never! That ski line might melt out by next weekend. Yep, ski season probably will give way to summer in the coming months, and that scarcity could hamper your ability to perceive risk.

How can we counter this heuristic trap? Repeatedly acknowledge it. Vocalize it to your group. Use it to question your plans. Powder fever is tough to reduce, but it’s easy to identify. You’re not immune to it, so embrace it. This all applies for countering scarcity-based decision making flaws occurring as a ski season wanes as well. Carefully consider your plans and motivations, and allow time to effectively do so. There’s almost certainly an element of risk that you’re missing. What is it?

This weekend, our mixed bag of expected conditions may or may not engender feelings of scarcity. Whatever kind of tracks you’re hoping to make, don’t forget that your excitement to recreate on our season-dependent resource might lead your decision making astray. Powder, corn, or breakable crust, they will all come again. Check our website to inform your decisions, and enjoy another weekend on Mount Washington!

Photos from Sunday, March 26, 2017

Just a taste of Huntington and Tuckerman Ravine this morning. Bluebird skies but no traffic made for a very peacful sunrise.

Huntington Ravine

Damnation Gully

Yale Gully as well as Damnation have pockets of unstable snow near the top that likely reach wall-to-wall. Talking to climbers who traveled in both of these yesterda, they reported knee deep soft snow. These pockets will be heads up today when they start to get cooked by the sun and warm temperatures.

Central Gully was the only gully in Huntington that did not see climbers yesterday. Looking at the pillow of wind loaded snow that exists from top to bottom, I can see why folks went elsewhere.

Odell Gully has lots of ice a the moment. It’s hard to believe it’s almost clising time for the Harvard Cabin.

South Gully has a mix of sastrugi, old surface and few pockets of new snow. A skier reported triggering an isolated pocket of new snow yesterday.

The Overview of Tuckerman

One of my favorite views on this mountain. Hillman’s and the Boott Spur Ridge.

Dodge’s Drop looking very steep at the top

The Duchess