Risk of avalanche involvement in winter backcountry recreation: the advantage of small groups
MetadataShow full item record
OBJECTIVE: Avalanches are the primary hazard for winter backcountry recreationists and cause numerous deaths and injuries annually. Although recreationists usually travel in groups, there is little empirical knowledge on group-related risk factors. This study aims to explore the relative risk of avalanche accidents with respect to group size and to discuss underlying reasons for different risk levels. METHODS: We compared backcountry usage data in regions in Switzerland and Italy with avalanche accident data in these regions. RESULTS: We found higher avalanche risk for groups of 4 or more people and lower risk for people traveling alone and in groups of 2. The relative risk of group size 4, 5, and 6 was higher compared with the reference group size of 2 in the Swiss and Italian dataset. The relative risk for people traveling alone was not significantly different compared with the reference group size of 2 in the Italian dataset but was lower in the Swiss dataset. CONCLUSIONS: These findings are in accordance with avalanche safety recommendations regarding the higher risk of large groups but not regarding lower risks of people traveling alone in avalanche terrain, which is not recommended and requires great caution. Further studies on backcountry usage are necessary to improve our understanding of human behavior and risk factors. New techniques (eg, video monitoring) may be useful for acquiring reliable data on backcountry usage.