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Perception of terrain characteristics is fundamental to risk and hazard management for professional guides in mechanized skiing operations. Existing terrain studies in avalanche safety research have primarily focused on identifying the hazard potential (e.g., identification of start zones) based on easily measurable physical characteristics (e.g., incline, aspect). However, terrain choices in mechanized skiing depend on a much broader set of factors, including operational benefits and barriers for accessing the terrain. In this paper, we present a new, guide-focused approach for characterizing ski runs to facilitate risk management decisions in mechanized backcountry skiing operations, which gathers objective and subjective assessments with respect to access, skiing experience, operational usability, hazard potential and mitigation practices. We explore the value of the proposed system at two mechanized skiing operations in Canada. The resulting terrain framework captures the existing terrain knowledge of a guiding team and offers a valuable resource for training of new guides, continuous mentorship, land management, and daily operational decision-making. The presented terrain characterization approach represents a crucial step for studying guides’ terrain choices, extracting their decision rules, and developing meaningful decision aids that can help them make effective terrain choices more efficiently.
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