We are a backcountry guiding operation, and safety comes first, always. In this blog we describe some of our daily risk management routine. This has been daily habit for several years now, whether we are guiding that day or not. This is what we believe to be the minimum required professional standard of care owed to paying guided customers. Do not assume everyone does this.
The day usually starts before dawn, particularly in the depths of winter. We have a standard snow and weather study plot outside and 10 minutes after getting out of bed I am in the snow with a head torch on, paying attention to what happened over the last 12 and 24 hours. Numerous measurements all get written into a notebook and are taken inside. I then have breakfast and start my morning avalanche hazard analysis and plan for the day. I know of no better way to start a day in the mountains than going outside to look around before doing anything else. Dark starts are normal.
The morning hazard analysis and avalanche forecast is quite detailed. On many days, it is too detailed. But we stick with the discipline because it is best to do certain things even when you don’t need to do them, so one day when it really counts, you are really good at doing them. A long list of information gets put into a form, and a picture builds of what to expect that day. Relevant information includes: weather over the last 24 hours with significant changes noted, our own recent snow and avalanche observations, other people’s observations from an info sharing network, the weather forecast for that day, information about known weak layers etc etc. For each of these many data points we note what impact it will have on the snow stability trend.
With this info, specific avalanche problems are anticipated: what type of avalanches might be expected, their size, their distribution, their sensitivity, and the likelihood of triggering them. After this an estimate of avalanche danger is formed for each elevation band. These forecasts and estimates are assigned a level of confidence. Low confidence/high uncertainty is noted.