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The majority of avalanche accidents are a result of errors in judgment, often shockingly evident only in hindsight. Avalanche workers have long recognized this problem which has spurred much work on the “human factors”, resulting in some notable benefit for the professional. Less adequately supported are the rest of us – those who ski, board, climb and sled the backcountry as recreationists. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose is a current summary of the decision making problem, specifically for the skilled and experienced recreationist.


Most of the book is devoted to breaking the problem down into digestible bits, such as the characteristics and role of bias, intuition or luck and the influence of cultural and personal values. Sounds simple huh? It would be except for one thing: It all involves the sub-conscious mind, which is about as hidden and sneaky as any weakness in the snowpack. Sub-conscious thought may be tangible as theory but when it comes to practical application the variables prove to be as fluid and controllable as a herd of cats. A particular type of problem brings these cats alive like nobodies business. This is the “Wicked Problem”, where each problem is unique, ever evolving, never perfectly understood and trying to figure it all out by trial and error is a really bad idea. Avalanche risk is a wicked problem.


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