15 Aug 2022
15 Aug 2022

A user perspective on the avalanche danger scale – Insights from North America

Abby Morgan1, Pascal Haegeli1, Henry Finn1,2, and Patrick Mair3 Abby Morgan et al.
  • 1School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, V5A 1S6, Canada
  • 2School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH8 9LD, UK
  • 3Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, United States

Abstract. Danger ratings are used across many fields to convey the severity of a hazard. In snow avalanche risk management, danger ratings play a prominent role in public bulletins by concisely describing existing and expected conditions. While there is considerable research examining the accuracy and consistency of the production of avalanche danger ratings, far less research has focused on how backcountry recreationists interpret and apply the scale.

We used 3195 responses to an online survey to provide insight into how recreationists perceive the North American Public Avalanche Danger Scale and how they use ratings to make trip planning decisions. Using a latent class mixed effect model, our analysis shows that the most common perception of the danger scale is linear. People with a linear perception expect the hazard to increase in a stepwise fashion between levels. This understanding is contrary to the scientific understanding of the scale, which indicates an exponential-like increase in severity between levels. Regardless of perception, most respondents report avoiding the backcountry at the two highest ratings. Using conditional inference trees, we show that participants who recreate fewer days per year and those who have lower levels of avalanche safety training tend to rely more heavily on the danger rating to make trip planning decisions. These results provide avalanche warning services with a better understanding of how recreationists interact with danger ratings and highlight how critical the ratings are for individuals who recreate less often and who have lower levels of training. We discuss opportunities for avalanche warning services to optimize the danger scale to meet the needs of these users who depend on the ratings the most.

Abby Morgan et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-764', Anonymous Referee #1, 05 Sep 2022
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Pascal Haegeli, 17 Jan 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-764', Frank Techel, 29 Nov 2022
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Pascal Haegeli, 17 Jan 2023

Abby Morgan et al.

Abby Morgan et al.


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Short summary
The avalanche danger scale is a critical component for communicating the severity of avalanche hazard conditions to the public. We examine how backcountry recreationists in North America understand and use the danger scale for planning trips into the backcountry. Our results provide an important user perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the existing scale and highlight opportunities for future improvements.