Wednesday, April 18 • 3:10pm - 3:40pm
Travel Behavior and Decision Making of Lift Access Backcountry Skiers

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Backcountry skiers recreate in a complex environment, with the goal of minimizing the risk of avalanche hazard and maximizing recreational opportunities. Traditional backcountry outings start and end in uncontrolled backcountry settings, with a clear understanding that individuals are responsible for their own safety and rescue in the event of an accident. Lift access backcountry skiing (LABC) is a particular genre of the sport, in which ski resort lifts are utilized to access backcountry recreation sites. By shifting skiers mentality from the traditional setting to a LABC setting, the line between whether the ski resort provides avalanche mitigation and rescue services, or not, becomes less clearly defined in the minds of skiers.

This research observes the travel behavior and evaluates the decision-making biases of LABC skiers via GPS tracking and survey responses. A geographic information system (GIS) is implemented to analyze the travel behavior of participants, with the aim to detect changes in behavior, as indexed via terrain used under different levels of avalanche hazard. Logistic regression and multiple linear regression are used to model travel behavior and decision-making biases as a function of observed terrain metrics.

Data was collected over 18 days from February 2017 to February 2018 at Saddle Peak backcountry area, a prime LABC location at the southern boundary of Bridger Bowl Ski Area, Montana, USA. Results indicate subtle changes in the terrain preferences of participants under elevated avalanche hazard, with increased travel on ridge features and decreased travel on convex features. These indicate a positive response, minimizing the risk of an avalanche involvement by managing slope shape. Survey responses indicate that gender, backcountry experience, and perception of avalanche mitigation have significant effects on percent of GPS track in complex avalanche terrain.


John Sykes

John is a MS candidate in the department of Earth Sciences at Montana State University, working in the Snow and Avalanche Lab. He received the MAGIP higher education scholarship for research on modeling terrain preferences of backcountry skiers using GPS tracking and survey responses... Read More →

Wednesday April 18, 2018 3:10pm - 3:40pm
Lewis Room