Using time lapse photography to document terrain preferences of backcountry skiers

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Avalanches are one of the greatest hazards for those recreating in snow covered mountainous terrain. In the past 20 years an average of 13 people in Canada and 27 people in the US are killed in avalanches each winter. Meanwhile, uncontrolled backcountry avalanche terrain use has significantly increased demonstrated by increased demand for avalanche education and increased sales in backcountry equipment. Lift-accessed backcountry (LABC), or avalanche terrain easily accessed from the ski resort, has seen increased usage since resorts opened boundaries in the mid-1990s. This has led to increased research interest in how people are using backcountry avalanche terrain. A simple method to reduce exposure to avalanche hazard is avoidance, however total avoidance is seldom practical. Professionals and recreational skiers alike mitigate avalanche hazard by managing exposure to terrain containing the avalanche hazard. Current research studies use GPS tracking to study the terrain metrics of backcountry skiers. This GPS research is limited to studying volunteers and professionals that willingly track and submit their trips. This approach ignores many users and thus presents a biased picture of use. This paper develops a method to capture the terrain metrics of all skiers on an avalanche-prone backcountry slope. A remote time-lapse camera focused on a high skier-use backcountry slope, (Saddle Peak, in the Bridger Mountain Range of southwest Montana, USA) captured skiers descending Saddle Peak in ten-second increments. Skier locations were digitized from the photos, then transformed onto a geo-referenced digital elevation model (DEM) such that terrain metrics could be applied to each skier location. Analysis of terrain metrics for each skier point compared slope, profile curvature (downslope), and plan curvature (cross slope) over days with different forecasted avalanche hazard. Terrain metrics on Considerable avalanche hazard days differed significantly from Moderate or Low avalanche hazard days (p-value < 0.001). Transformed data fell within a 49-m horizontal accuracy for all skier point locations with a 95% confidence interval. By capturing all skiers on a slope without their knowledge, the data collected provides a large and diverse data set of the terrain preferences of backcountry skiers under varying conditions.




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