When travelling in avalanche terrain, avalanche risk is managed by choosing terrain the limits exposure to the existing hazard to an acceptable level while pursuing your activity. While mountain guides have a tremendous amount of practical expertise managing avalanche hazard, there has been very limited academic research on this important topic so far.

Our objective in this research area is to capture and quantitatively describe the risk management expertise of mountain guides to develop tools that make this expertise more easily accessible to avalanche professionals and backcountry recreationists.

Research projects

Current projects

  • Ski run classification for mechanized skiing

    What do the daily 'run list' ratings reveal about the operational character of ski runs?


    The objective of this study was to explore whether large-scale professional terrain choices as systematically documented in the daily run list ratings by commercial backcountry skiing operations can be used to derive a holistic avalanche terrain classification. To identify similarly managed types of terrain we applied a pattern recognition approach in actual large-scale terrain management decisions of avalanche professionals over the course of multiple winter seasons. Terrain types were subsequently characterized with both topographic and operational attributes to provide a better foundation for the analysis of professional terrain management.

    Primary researcher

    Reto Sterchi

    Related publications

    Sterchi et al. (2016) Exploring large-scale terrain preferences for managing avalanche risk in a commercial backcountry skiing operation. Proceedings of the 2016 International Snow Science Workshop in Breckenridge, CO, 838-845.

    Industrial partners

    Northern Escape Helicopter Skiing
    Canadian Mountain Holidays – Galena operation


    University Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management
    MITACS Accelerate in partnership with HeliCat Canada

  • Automated avalanche terrain severity ratings

    Can we derive avalanche terrain severity ratings from observed terrain choices of mountain guides?


    We have numerically described avalanche terrain selection expertise of professional ski guides by tracking them with GPS units. These data were used to create avalanche terrain severity ratings, similar to ATES ratings, which can be used to describe the overall severity of the avalanche terrain and to elicit some condition-specific terrain guidance.

    Primary researcher

    Scott Thumlert

    Related publications

    Thumlert et al. (2016) Can we derive an avalanche terrain severity rating from observed terrain selection of professional guides? A proof-of-concept study. Proceedings of the 2016 International Snow Science Workshop in Breckenridge, CO, 112-120.


    Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing


    MITACS Elevate in collaboration with Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing

Recent publications

Describing the severity of avalanche terrain numerically using the observed terrain selection practices of professional guides

Journal PaperTerrain Management
Scott Thumlert and Pascal Haegeli
Nat Hazards (2018) 91(1): 89-115. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-017-3113-y
Publication year: 2018

Exploring Large-Scale Terrain Preferences for Managing Avalanche Risk in a Commercial Backcountry Skiing Operation

Conference Paper - ISSWTerrain Management
Reto Sterchi, Pascal Haegeli, Clair Israelson
Proceedings of 2016 International Snow Science Workshop in Breckenridge, CO, 838-845
Publication year: 2016

Click here for a complete listing of publications on this research topic.