|dc.description.abstract||Avalanche fatalities in New Zealand increased as alpine terrain became more accessible and popular amongst recreationalists. This increase began in the 1950’s and continued through to the 1990’s. During this time an average of two people were being killed in avalanche events each year. With advances in avalanche safety technology, snow research and education, fatalities in New Zealand have decreased to the present average rate of less than one person per year.
While there is knowledge pertaining to the demographics of avalanche victims, there is very little information regarding numbers and demographics of people using backcountry terrain. The aim of this research is to assess the behaviour and decision making of recreational users of avalanche terrain accessed from the Craigieburn Valley Ski Area (CVSA), Canterbury, New Zealand. The following objectives are used to complete this aim. Firstly, observational information is obtained regarding the frequency and preparedness of users in backcountry terrain. Secondly, information will be gathered on how users make informed decisions about their behaviour in areas that contain a hazard. To achieve these objectives a mixed method approach is applied.
Field work for this research was conducted over 20 consecutive days from 6 August 2015 to 26 August 2015 at CVSA. A transceiver checkpoint was designed and deployed on-mountain to gather data on the frequency of users and the level of equipment use in backcountry terrain. A questionnaire was developed to gather demographic, education, experience, equipment and decision making information from backcountry users. In addition, data on snow stability, temperature and precipitation was gathered during the study period. This was used to give an understanding of the effect that weather and snow conditions have on user numbers and behaviour.
Key findings of this research include identifying factors affecting the level of avalanche transceiver use amongst backcountry users. The behaviour of backcountry users and the social effects on their decision making is shown to be a complicated mixture of familiarity, scarcity, social proofs and risk acceptance. Transceiver use varied from 42% to 69% and appeared to depend on snow and weather conditions, as well as timing within the week. On average half (52%) of users in backcountry terrain at CVSA were carrying an avalanche transceiver. This is very low given the spatial and temporal variability of snowpack stability and associated avalanche risk in CVSA’s backcountry terrain.
The absence of backcountry user knowledge regarding avalanche danger and primary avalanche type brings to question the effectiveness of avalanche advisories. This study shows that backcountry users at CVSA may not be viewing additional information on the advisories and instead, are simply taking notice of the region’s danger level. Additionally, the effectiveness of ski area signage is questioned. The lack of users ability to determine primary avalanche danger type indicates that this information is not being used by backcountry users. Possible changes to signage and advisory systems is therefore suggested. Likewise, modification of education programmes to include more emphasis on carrying gear, identifying decision making traps and pre trip planning is required.
This research has implications for current understanding of decision making in backcountry terrain. Initially it was believed that due to the high level of males in avalanche fatality statistics (90% in Irwin and Owens, 2004), that women must be making better decisions when travelling in backcountry terrain. However, the results from this research indicate that the high number of male fatalities may be the result of a higher number of males using backcountry terrain.||