Stepping Back

February 14, 2018

 "If nothing good is happening anywhere and at anytime in the San Juans, how do you get out an enjoy the backcountry in winter?" -every student, every course...

 

After scaring another group of avalanche students straight this weekend, with warnings and tales of the persistent slab horror show we often manage in the San Juans, I wanted to provide a brief reflection on Strategic Mindset. This is a tool that we use daily as professionals but also one that can be easily adopted by rec travelers.

 

The idea and utilization of Strategic Mindset was introduced by Roger Atkins in a paper presented at the 2014 ISSW.

He provides the following summary:

 

[Strategic Mindset] takes the approach that emotional human factors inevitably influence our decisions and are potentially more beneficial than detrimental. The key is to understand the positive aspects as well as the pitfalls of human factors and to deliberately and beneficially integrate human factors into decision making.

 

To this end, I have referenced material from the social sciences pertaining to decision making under un-certainty in different contexts unrelated to snow and avalanches and developed a concept I call “Strategic Mind-Set”. This concept is presented as one possible way to involve human factors in decision making and to aid communication within groups. "Strategic Mind-Set" can apply to all backcountry travelers from individual recreationists to professional guiding teams.

 

Using Human Factors to benefit our judgement and decision making is at the core of the Strategic Mindset. This recognition and integration takes place for me at multiple points throughout the day. I incorporate Strategic Mindset into my tour planning and preparations for Daily Guide's meeting, I use it to drive field decisions and terrain management off-piste and I think about it again when completing AM/PM forms.

 

I have found great success in the utilization of this tool.

 

For example, we are smack dab in the middle of a series of storms this week. The 2017/18 season has been sparse but the flow changed last Friday and has not let up. It's been one snow event after another. Winds too!

 

After operating in the Entrenchment Mindset for the better part of 2018 to date, this week has been all about Stepping Back. It's easy to step back when my charges are L1/L2 students or other types of training groups. It's much harder when I'm guiding ski guests that expect the goods. The goods don't often come with Entrenchment because you've limited yourself to specific terrain- you are not opening new stuff to clients and therefore you really have to save some stashes in order to harvest the goods they expect- Ski guiding can often feel like acting...

 

I'm on a tactical training this week so getting blower face shots is not the objective, albeit a nice bonus if it happens. Both new clients and returning friends see the snowfall amounts, read the avalanche report, request my availability and head to the Juans. There's pressure to get them great turns. This is where professional discipline comes in. After all, this is why folks ride with a guide. Killing or hurting your customers is bad for business!

 

So, we're stepping back this week. We've taken over two feet of fresh snow and loaded it all on an already weak and suspect snowpack. Yesterday’s pit results were presenting with a predictable set of culprits, now overburdened under this new stress- The new storm snow was easily initiating in soft slabs. The new/old interface was the surface upon which things were propagating. And it was not difficult to produce additional failures on the 2017 layers and step downs that ripped and popped on the junk at the ground. Delicate and dicey indeed.

 

Check out strategic mindset and reflect on what your perspective currently is in your own home turf. Keep your head in the game out there kiddos. No days off with the story. Step back and take it all in. Be safe out there today!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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