Technical information, news, research, and opinion on avalanches, snow safety, and winter backcountry travel.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Knowing, Part I

I could feel at the time, there was no way of knowing—Roxy Music

From Wikipedia: Holism (from ὂλος holos, a Greek word meaning all, whole, entire, total) is the idea that all the properties of a given system (physical, biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, linguistic, etc.) cannot be determined or explained by its component parts alone. Instead, the system as a whole determines in an important way how the parts behave.

In my last post, I outlined some priorities for learning snow safety. I'd like to provide a few additional simplifications.

  • A.) Understand yourself and the people with whom you ski.
  • B.) Develop a mental model of the physical processes taking place in the mountains.
  • C.) Integrate A and B via correct backcountry avalanche forecasting procedures.

Once you have some basic information, you can start to apply correct backcountry avalanche forecasting procedures to "the avalanche problem", and produce further refinements. You can boil backcountry avalanche forecasting down to its essence in the following manner:

The goal of backcountry avalanche forecasting is to minimise uncertainty about instability by prioritising information acquired through an understanding of the physical processes taking place in the mountain environment while accounting for the possibility of human error.

Of course, all of this is much easier said than done, especially since there are always shortcomings in the data. In terms of cognition, these shortcomings combine with well-known limitations of our psychology and variations in our perception to blunt our awareness and numb us to the effects of uncertainty.

All of which ultimately increase our vulnerability to serious errors. Following correct procedures greatly reduces the chance of error ( and the consequences ).

It's the difference between knowing and not knowing.

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