about-bruce-kay ABOUT THE AUTHOR ― BRUCE KAY

I was first introduced to the Canadian mountains by my mountaineering parents, often on Alpine Club of Canada family camps. Once free of the chains of high school I was soon climbing and skiing as much as possible in the home mountains as well as the more remote mountain ranges of North America and internationally. This led to a career path of alpine guiding in the summer and avalanche forecasting in the winter, primarily for what was then Blackcomb Skiing Enterprises (now Whistler Blackcomb). Since leaving Blackcomb in 2004, I have provided consulting and safety services in mountainous terrain for a variety of industrial clients, ranging from mining, logging and heavy construction to film productions and sporting events.


Autonomy Mastery and Purpose in the Avalanche Patch - by Bruce Kay

The majority of avalanche accidents are a result of errors in judgment, often shockingly evident only in hindsight. Avalanche workers have long recognized this problem which has spurred much work on the “human factors”, resulting in some notable benefit for the professional. Less adequately supported are the rest of us – those who ski, board, climb and sled the backcountry as recreationists. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose is a current summary of the decision making problem, specifically for the skilled and experienced recreationist.

Most of the book is devoted to breaking the problem down into digestible bits, such as the characteristics and role of bias, intuition or luck and the influence of cultural and personal values. Sounds simple huh? It would be except for one thing: It all involves the sub-conscious mind, which is about as hidden and sneaky as any weakness in the snowpack. Sub-conscious thought may be tangible as theory but when it comes to practical application the variables prove to be as fluid and controllable as a herd of cats. A particular type of problem brings these cats alive like nobodies business. This is the “Wicked Problem”, where each problem is unique, ever evolving, never perfectly understood and trying to figure it all out by trial and error is a really bad idea. Avalanche risk is a wicked problem.

“Some environments do not provide the luxury of timely and proportional feedback to our decisions. Instead, feedback is catastrophic.” — Ian McCammon

Awareness is a start but inevitably, solution is what we want. This is achievable but not in the usual sense. Because both the snowpack and our minds are so chronically “unobservable”, the problem is more managed than solved. Rules, tools and strategies are provided for this purpose but always governed under one dominant principle – uncertainty, under conditions of severe consequence.

If all that sounds excruciatingly esoteric – fear not! Numerous stories, case studies and personal anecdotes liven the whole thing up and provide a visceral relevancy to it all. This isn’t just a bunch of academic hooey dreamt up by some egg-headed Shrink in a lab. This is the stuff that explains not just avalanche risk but everything else from playing the stock market to love and politics. To an extent, this book is for the simply curious, but with luck it will also provide an effective framework to better understand and manage risk in the avalanche patch and beyond.