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When engaging in activities in avalanche-prone terrain, we regularly have to make difficult decisions. Among the many factors which have to be considered are the following: How does the avalanche bulletin describe the current situation? What was the wind direction? Can the fresh snow drift accumulations be released? Are there weak layers deep in the snowpack? When actually making decisions, however, we often overlook or give scant attention to a crucial factor: ourselves. What kind of personalities belong to the group? Who is the most experienced member? Have we defined our goals for the day? Is everyone fit? The SLF has now produced SOCIAL, a safeguarding aid for groups in the form of a check list that covers the most important of these issues. It is available in handy credit card format in German, French, Italian and English.

 

SOCIAL is the outcome of a doctoral thesis on group dynamics examining the factors that influence decision-making by winter sport participants in avalanche-prone terrain. A survey conducted among backcountry skiers and freeriders in the Davos region revealed several different behaviour patterns. In many cases, an understanding of these patterns can help to reduce the avalanche risk. On the basis of these survey findings, literature analyses and comparisons with other hazardous disciplines, the avalanche forecaster Benjamin Zweifel produced the group safeguarding aid SOCIAL in collaboration with the core training team for avalanche prevention in snow sports (KAT). It is envisaged as a memory aid to help winter sport participants identify possible group-related risk factors.

Skills 
Does the difficulty of the trip match the ability and size of the group?
Organisation
Know who is coming and clarify individual roles.
Communication
Communicate openly and clearly. Ask if you have any questions.
Identification
Clarify expectations and discuss alternatives.
Anomalies
Would you make the same decision if you were alone?
Leadership

Be proactive. Address potential challenges before they become problems.

A more detailed set of safeguarding questions and actions relating to the factors highlighted by SOCIAL is published in German on the SLF website. The English, German, French and Italian cards are available direct from the SLF and can be used in avalanche training courses and when undertaking private backcountry tours.

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