Adherence of backcountry winter recreationists to avalanche prevention and safety practices in northern Italy
Dal Cappello T
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Backcountry recreationists account for a high percentage of avalanche fatalities, but the total number of recreationists and relative percentage of different recreation types are unknown. The aim of this study was to collect the first comprehensive survey of backcountry skiers and snowshoers in a region in the European Alps to quantify adherence to basic prevention and safety practices. Over a 1-week period in February 2011 in South Tyrol, Italy, 5576 individuals (77.7% skiers, 22.3% snowshoers) in 1927 groups were surveyed. Significantly more skiers than snowshoers could report the avalanche danger level (52.5% vs 28.0% of groups) and carried standard rescue equipment (transceiver, probe, and shovel) (80.6% vs 13.7% of individuals). Complete adherence to minimum advisable practices (i.e., an individual being in a group with one member correctly informed about the danger level and carrying personal standard rescue equipment) was 41.5%, but was significantly higher in skiers (51.1% vs 8.7% snowshoers) and in individuals who were younger, reported more tours per season, traveled in larger groups, and started earlier. A transnational survey over a complete winter season would be required to obtain total participation prevalence, detect regional differences, and assess the influence of prevention and safety practices on relative reduction in mortality.