While terrain, weather, and snowpack can play large roles in contributing to the likelihood of winter outdoor emergencies, such as an avalanche, it’s also important to recognize that human factors—ego, emotion, or groupthink—can have just as severe of consequences by clouding your judgment and impairing your decision-making. For instance, many hikers are more inclined to take unnecessary risks when hiking in familiar terrain. Conditions, however, can change without warning, so it’s smart to treat all terrain like it’s the first time you’re hiking it.
Also, peer pressure and approval from the group can be big influences. Pushing on because you don’t want to go against the will of the group or upset your friends, even though your instincts are screaming at you that something’s wrong, can be dangerous. Speak up if something doesn’t feel right.
Gauging your actions by following along with the group can also be dangerous. It can be easy to succumb to a herd mentality and step onto a dangerous slope when other people have gone before you, but you should always assess the situation as if you were traveling alone.
If you’re heavily committed to reaching your destination, you may block out your better judgment or ignore indications of danger by focusing only on achieving your goal. In psychology, this is known as “mindguarding,” or “summit fever” in mountaineering lingo.
Relying on an existing set of tracks in the snow can actually leave you with a false sense of security. Just because someone else has gone through the area before you doesn’t mean it’s safe. Contrarily, it can also be very tempting to ignore potential hazards when the snow is deep, fresh, and untracked. Take each step carefully, being mindful of every available placement for your feet and making the best decision.
When we think of avalanches or other types of dangerous winter hazards, be tend to believe we have no control over such things. However, committing any one of the mistakes listed above can greatly increase your odds of finding yourself in a survival emergency. Take today’s article to heart if you plan on hitting the trails this winter. Be smart, be safe, but be sure to have fun!