New Zealand Mountan Safety Council

Online Course - Decision Making


Human Factors

Even with the best skills and years of experience under your belt, we all occasionally make poor decisions.

Studies into avalanche accidents have found that the victim often had the skills and knowledge to recognise the signs of unstable avalanche conditions but chose to go anyway. They ignored the facts and based their decisions on emotions.

How we feel on any given day can change. Some days we may be confident, cocky, bullish, self assured, be willing to take on more risk, and on other days we may be more reserved, sceptical and overly cautious. Who we travel with can also affect how we make decisions.

By understanding a little bit about these factors, you can become more aware of how they might be affecting your decision making.


Are you feeling over confident because you’ve been there before? Always approach a slope as if you have never been there before. Take it at face value.


Do you have a desire to be noticed and accepted or not wanting to speak out or communicate concerns for fear of conflict or embarrassment? Think of the respect gained from being the one that makes decisions that keeps everyone safe.


Are you bound to a plan or the way you think you should act? Make the day’s goal to return safely and have good options that you would use.


Are you following someone because you think they know better? Question authority. Develop an atmosphere where everyone in the group has an opinion and voices it; use a team approach to decision making.


Are you racing to get there first? Or get home? Remember that competition and danger go hand in hand.

Social Proof

Are you thinking, it must be ok because others are doing it? Ask yourself, would I do this alone, without a transceiver, or with no-one else watching?


Follow these links to find out more on how easy it is to miss, or turn a blind eye from obvious red flag clues that avalanche danger is eminent.

To have the discipline to make judgments based on facts and not emotion takes a systematic approach. The use of checklists is common when there are many factors to consider, and the consequences of a poor decision are high. Airline pilots and surgeons have used checklists to help them eliminate errors and the possibility of overlooking valuable clues. Get yourself into a good systematic way of planning and preparing for your backcountry trips.

The Avalanche Assessor card is a memory aide that runs you through a checklist. It is intended to cue your own observations like a checklist. Read more about it here , or you can order one from the Mounatin Safety Council's online shop



Avalanche Forecast Regions:
Mountain Safety Council managed websites
Mountainf Safety Council websiteAdventure Smart websiteNew Zealand Avalanche Center

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