Travel behavior and decision-making biases of lift access backcountry skiers on Saddle Peak, Bridger Mountains, Montana, USA
Sykes, John Massey
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Backcountry skiers recreate in a complex environment, with the goal of minimizing the risk of avalanche hazard and maximizing recreational opportunities. Traditional backcountry outings start and end in uncontrolled backcountry settings, with responsibility for avalanche safety and rescue falling in the hands of each group of skiers. Lift access backcountry skiing (LABC) is a particular genre of the sport in which ski resort lifts are utilized to access backcountry recreation sites. By shifting skiers mentality from the traditional backcountry setting to a LABC setting, the line between whether the ski resort provides avalanche mitigation and rescue services or not, becomes less clearly defined in the minds of skiers. We observe the travel behavior and evaluate the decision-making biases of LABC skiers via GPS tracking and survey responses. Participants were recruited in the field, at the boundary between the relative safety of the ski resort and the uncontrolled backcountry terrain beyond. A geographic information system (GIS) is implemented to analyze the travel behavior of participants, with the aim to detect changes in behavior, as indexed via terrain used under different levels of avalanche hazard. Logistic regression and multiple linear regression are used to model travel behavior and decision-making biases as a function of observed terrain metrics. Data was collected over 19 days from February 2017 to February 2018 at Saddle Peak backcountry area, a prime LABC location at the southern boundary of Bridger Bowl Ski Area, Montana, USA. Avalanche hazard during data collection was either moderate (119 tracks) or considerable (20 tracks). Regression models indicate subtle changes in the terrain preferences of participants under elevated avalanche hazard, with increased travel on ridge features and decreased use of convex features. These indicate a positive response, minimizing the risk of an avalanche involvement by managing slope shape. Survey responses indicate that female participants and those with greater backcountry experience have a significantly lower percentage of their total GPS track in complex avalanche terrain as defined using the avalanche terrain exposure scale. Participants who perceived the ski patrol as providing avalanche mitigation in the backcountry area adjacent to the resort had a significantly higher percentage of GPS track in complex avalanche terrain.