New research chair to tackle avalanche prevention

Avalanches account for 12 deaths every year in Canada. - Photo courtesy of Reuters

Avalanches are a serious hazard for anyone venturing into the backcountry. To help better educate the public about the risks of avalanches, SFU has recently appointed Dr. Pascal Haegeli, an assistant professor in the School of Resource and Environmental Management, as the Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management.

As chair of this project, Haegeli will look into the questions of “How do people manage this [avalanche] risk, and how can we provide them with better tools so that they can make better informed choices?”

Over $1 million in funding and support over the next five years will be received from Canadian Pacific, HeliCat Canada, the Avalanche Canada Foundation, and SFU. Haegeli will be working in collaboration with partners in the Canadian avalanche prevention community to learn from their professional expertise.

In return, he hopes to help them work more efficiently and safely. Together they aim to make the knowledge they uncover more accessible to the public.

In Canada approximately 12 people die every year in avalanches, and approximately 80 per cent of these fatalities occur in British Columbia. These deaths usually occur among skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers who venture out to explore the backcountry.

Haegeli’s research project will expand upon more traditional studies, which tend to focus primarily on the physical properties of the snowpack, and instead will take a more interdisciplinary approach that includes how the human element becomes a factor in avalanches.

“Ninety per cent of fatal avalanche accidents are actually triggered by the victims themselves [. . .] so that sort of highlights that people play a critical role in avalanche safety because they manage the risk by choosing when and where to travel in the backcountry,” explained Haegeli.

The snowy mountains may never stop alluring explorers with their awe-inspiring yet dangerous beauty. In his new position, Haegeli hopes to encourage people to continue exploring, but also to keep them safe.

Said Haegeli,  “There’s more and more people going out into the backcountry, so the goal of my research is to help people make informed choices.”