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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


With friends surrounded, the dawn mist glowing, the water flowing, the endless river, forever and ever—Pink Floyd

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The last post was complicated and rambling, so I'm going to present a careful simplification. I also feel the need to explain something else: for a long time I've written about uncertainty and some people have asked about alternatives. So, if you think uncertainty is too general, you get to deal with complexity instead.

1. Natural phenomena are fundamentally complex.
2. Scientific models of the phenomena are not particularly complex.
3. Mixing in the scientific models, as with mixing in the real world, introduces complexity.
4. Complexity in the models is simply a reflection of the original, irreducible complexities.

We're told again and again to use multiple observations before making decisions. Surely this means that a systems understanding is the best approach to mountain safety. One way to approach it from a systems level is to simply acknowledge the incredible uncertainty, but there are other approaches.

You can approach the problem from the perspective of thermodynamics. Is this a requirement? No, but some people prefer this approach. You can approach the problem from the perspective of psychology. Is this a requirement? No, but some people prefer this approach. What about a risk management approach? Rule-based approaches?

Clearly there are numerous approaches, and if we follow the rule of multiple observations, then it's obvious that we need to use techniques from each area.

Of course new complexities arise as soon as we start mixing the models of thermodynamics, psychology, and uncertainty.

And you've already heard that story, right?

NOTE: There are great new features from Please read this post on Turns-All-Year for instructions on using this exciting product.

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