The Human Factor 2.0 – SLF

Stephan Harvey and Ben Zweifel of the renowned SLF avalanche institute in Switzerland discuss human factors in Europe

Read The Human Factor 2.0, the award-winning multimedia series on glory, risk, and survival in avalanche terrain, by David Page.

Usually licking ice cream doesn’t evoke thoughts of avalanche and snow science research. But the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) in Davos, Switzerland, not only provides data on the optimal crystalline structure of ice cream but has also contributed more to our understanding of the physical components of snow, ice, and avalanches than arguably any other enterprise on the planet. But that analysis, as supported by the institute, has largely avoided the psychological side of snow safety, which has increased in importance the last 10 years within the avalanche field.

Two avalanche forecasters, however, are changing that trend at the SLF. Stephan Harvey and Benjamin Zweifel have both led different studies focusing on the human factors within snow science. Zweifel, a veteran forecaster at the SLF, broke off and completed a sideline Ph.D. on decision-making on group dynamics among backcountry and freeride skiers. Harvey, on the other hand, has had help with two other SLF colleagues on a groundbreaking app, called White Risk, that allows users, with a paid license, to use a route-planning tool to plot and strategize backcountry travel plans on high-res topo maps with detailed slope angles and terrain features, and then to download all of it to your smartphone for reference in the field. (To date, only Swiss maps are available.)

Additionally, Harvey and Zweifel highlight the mindset differences of North Americans and Europeans regarding human factors in snow safety, as well as the cultural differences of analyzing avalanche fatalities and the decision-making therein to mitigate future tragedy.