MOUNTAIN LIFE - Coast Mountains | Fall Winter 2018

FALL/WINTER 2018 MLCM 29 words :: Phil Tomlinson There are two critical factors in predicting avalanche danger:snowpack;andweather. Figuring out how (b) is going to affect (a) begins to paint a picture of how the risk will evolve. And that is exactly what Avalanche Canada’s forecasters are trying to figure out each and every day they build a bulletin. The information considered comes from myriad sources, both professional and amateur. The Meteorological Service of Canada provides Avalanche Canada with daily, specially-tailored forecasts, while field observations and snowpack stats are pulled from professional guides, lodges, and ski resorts through InfoEx–an online system where avalanche professionals share their observations with each other. Relying solely on expert sources has the upshot of predictable, high-quality information, but it severely restricts how much data is coming in–especially in regions that don’t have many professional users. Recently however, Avalanche Canada has tapped into another resource–regular backcountry enthusiasts. On any given day there are a whole lot of recreational backcountry users out in the mountains who have the training and experience (and camera phones) necessary to provide quality field observations–a vital source of information for forecasters. To capitalize on the amount and scope of possible data recreational users can provide, Avalanche Canada launched the Mountain Information Network (MIN). Accessible through the Avalanche Canada mobile apps or through their website, the MIN lets anyone with a cell signal share their experiences on the ground. This is game changing. It absolutely explodes the amount of data forecasters can access. But it’s not just the amount of information that matters, it’s the location from which it comes. Suddenly, field observations are available from remote areas across the country, rather than just where the professional outfits are working. Forecasters appreciate the added data and by reviewing every MIN post, they can prioritize users who consistently upload quality content. So what constitutes a useful MIN post? From photos with correctly tagged locations, forecasters can extract significant information that may not be obvious to everyone. The amount of snow visibly settled on branches, or cornices on ridges, gives insight into both the snowfall and wind. The depth a skier sinks to mid-turn provides details on the current storm slab. Additional written commentary can augment data–like surface hoar forming, or a crust at a certain elevation. “People often learn from others through stories,” explains Ilya Storm, Forecasting Program Supervisor. “So for me, a great MIN post tells a story of some important part of your day. It might be the wind, the deep storm snow accumulations or recent avalanche activity. I can often tease out tons of information from a single avalanche photo–is it a wind slab or a persistent slab running on surface hoar, did it propagate wall to wall or ‘as expected’, is it an unusual location or a ‘frequent flyer’ kind of terrain? A photo can truly be worth a thousand words.” While professional sources are extremely reliable, recreationists are inherently more variable. Different users have different experience levels, so forecasters must judge the quality of the information before they incorporate it. Not everyone has the training to dig a super-reproduceable pit, or the experience to correctly identify specific types of layers. Photos, on the other hand, tell a consistent story regardless of who clicked the shutter, which is why they form the backbone of a good MIN post. Avalanche bulletins are only one component used for making decisions about safety, and they encompass large values. Social media is increasingly becoming a tool for insights about conditions in specific areas because as people come home stoked from a great day out, they share their experiences. Recognizing this, the MIN ties into social media. From within the app, MIN posts useful for an upcoming trip can be shared on various platforms, regardless of who wrote them. The public, just like the forecasters, must evaluate the quality of each post they read. It’s an important step, but it can provide recent beta on an area that would otherwise be light on data. Knowledge is power when it comes to making safe decisions in the mountains. Forecasters need information for their bulletins and backcountry users need information to stay alive. Social media is changing how people get those details–and through integrated apps like MIN, people–from forecasters to the general public–are accessing more information on which to base their decisions than ever before. THE MOUNTAIN INFORMATION NETWORK GETTING SOCIAL WITH AVALANCHE CANADA UP FRONT If avy safety going social helps avoid being buried by this, we're all for it. JOE LAMMERS