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Simon Fraser University researchers look at social media to improve avalanche safety

 | September 14, 2020

Avalanches kill on average 10.5 people in Canada annually, more than any other natural hazard. The School for Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University, in Burnaby, B.C., is researching ways to mitigate the risk of travelling in avalanche terrain in a variety of ways, with the newest form being the role of social media. 

Simon Fraser University (SFU) is looking for backcountry recreationists who participate in any form of avalanche terrain travel including skiing, splitboarding, snowmobiling, mountaineering, and snowshoeing in Western Canada who are interested in being interviewed about their social media usage. The researchers’ objective is to understand the opportunities that social media can provide in improving avalanche safety.

Social media has changed the way people gather and share information about trips into avalanche terrain.

“We know very little about how social media is actually used by winter backcountry recreationalists (and) need to know more,” stated The Avalanche Research Program at SFU on their website  

The first phase of their latest research will interview participants to better understand the role and advantages of using social media to improve avalanche safety by helping recreationists avoid decision making and trip planning pitfalls.

The program leads interdisciplinary research and development for improved avalanche safety whose objective is to “help make avalanche bulletins better,” their website said. 

The program is headed by Dr. Pascal Haegeli, who also holds the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Industrial Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management.

“Our research interests lie at the interface between the natural and social sciences and our objective is to conduct interdisciplinary research and develop evidence-based tools that assist backcountry recreationists and avalanche professionals to make better informed decisions when preparing for traveling in avalanche terrain. To address these challenges, we work closely with our partners in the Canadian avalanche community and employ research approaches and methods from a wide variety of fields including atmospheric science, snow science, geography, GIS, risk analysis, decision-making science, communication, psychology, sociology, accident analysis, public health and medicine,” a statement on the program’s website reads.

To find out more information about the program’s research areas, click here and to participate in the research, sign up here.

Correction: The original version of the this article stated an incorrect number of annual avalanche fatalities in Canada. The correct number is now included in the article. We apologize for the error and thank those who bought it to our attention.