Rethinking the heuristic traps paradigm in avalanche education: Past, present and future


This paper will review the emergence and adoption of decision heuristics as a conceptual framework within the avalanche research and education community and demonstrate how this emphasis on the heuristic decision framework has anchored and was critical in redefining the discussion around avalanche accidents. This paradigm has been a critical and meaningful step in recognizing the importance of decision making in avalanche accidents. However, in an attempt to reduce the incidence of fatal accidents, the adoption of these ideas within the wider avalanche community has overlooked some clearly stated limitations within the foundational work of the heuristic decision frame. With respect to the concept of heuristic traps in conventional avalanche education, the concepts are poorly operationalized to the extent that they are vague about what exactly they describe. The result is that as presently framed, they are of negligible value to avalanche education that seeks its basis on the best available information. We end with a discussion, and a call to action to the avalanche research community, of how we could move towards resolution of these weaknesses and add value to prior work on human factor research. Our aim is not to disparage the seminal, paradigm shifting work by McCammon, but rather draw attention to how it has been operationalized and how the industry needs to move beyond this paradigm to see further gains in our understanding of avalanche fatalities.




Johnson, Jerry, Andrea Mannberg, Jordy Hendrikx, Audun Hetland, and Matthew Stephensen. “Rethinking the Heuristic Traps Paradigm in Avalanche Education: Past, Present and Future.” Edited by Pier Luigi Sacco. Cogent Social Sciences 6, no. 1 (2020): 1807111. doi:10.1080/23311886.2020.1807111.
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