A heuristic technique is an approach for making decisions using past experience as a guide. The following heuristic traps can mislead people into believing that conditions are safe for ski touring and backcountry skiing when they are not.
The acronym FACETS is useful for remembering six ‘human factors’ that can lead to making poor decisions during ski touring and backcountry skiing.
Past actions may guide behaviour in familiar settings.
Example: a skier may decide to ski a slope because they have skied it before without encountering any avalanche hazard.
This is the tendency to engage in activities that we think will get us noticed or accepted by people we like or respect, or by people who we want to like or respect us.
Example: a person may undertake a risky activity to impress other group members they like and respect .
There can be a tendency to maintain consistency with a first decision and stick to original assumptions about a situation.
Example: Skiers may decide to ski a slope of a particular angle and direction because they have previously skied a similar slope without incident.
Overall positive impression of a leader within a group leads other group members to ascribe skills to that person that they may not have.
Example: group members who are impressed by the bushwalking leadership capabilities of a leader might assume the leader has equivalent leadership skills for backcountry skiing.
Value resources or opportunities in proportion to the chance that you may lose them, especially to a competitor.
Example: those familiar with the “powder fever” that descends on some skiers after a big winter storm have seen this heuristic in action, as individuals take seemingly disproportionate risks to be the first to access untracked snow
When a person or group is confident in their skills, they will tend to take more risks using those skills when other people are present than they would when others are absent.
Example: people who are performing for bystanders or creating content for sharing on social media may take excessive risks. Some have filmed their own death!
Heuristic Traps in Recreational Avalanche Accidents: Evidence and Implications (PDF), Ian Macammon, 2004