Why do you need to know about ALPTRUTH and FACETS? Because these two acronyms can help you sort information and possibly save your life when you are faced with the decision of whether or not to travel in avalanche terrain.
STATE OF THE SNOWPACK AND BACKCOUNTRY ACCESS
With storm after storm in many regions, we are witnessing numerous avalanches as the 2019/2020 ski season progresses. Combine this with an increase in:
- backcountry touring equipment sales
- heli and cat ski operations
- more powerful snowmobiles
- improved split board and ski technology
What does this all this new tech and increased access yield? More Americans in the backcountry in search of fresh powder and untracked lines.
Whether you find yourself heading out of the gates at your local resort or ski touring from your favorite trailhead, as soon as you enter the backcountry, you are at risk. As frequent backcountry travelers, there is a lot of information to sort and prioritize – from new snowfall amounts, wind speed and direction, and recent avalanche activity, to communicate with our group and making sure that everyone is prepared. With so much to sort and keep track of, we often use the acronyms ALPTRUTH and FACETS as a double check in the backcountry.
TheALPTRUTH acronym covers 7 contributory factors to avalanche accidents. When reviewing over 1000 avalanche accidents, Ian McCammon found that 3 or more of these factors were present in over 90% of accidents.
So, as a double check, we often run through ALPTRUTh before entering avalanche terrain. If we have 3 or more of these factors present, it triggers a red flag in our brain, and pushes us to reconsider whether our travel plan makes sense.
A: Avalanche. Have there been any recent avalanches (within the last 48 hours)?
L: Loading Has there been loading on the slope by snow, wind, or rain in the last 48 hours?
P: Path. Will your planned travel path cross an obvious avalanche path? Will your uphill travel cross any potential avalanche paths?
T: Terrain trap. Is there a terrain trap? These include gullies, trees, cliffs or other features. A slide into a terrain trap will increase the severity.
R: Rating. What does today’s avalanche report look like for your area? If there’s a rating of “considerable” or higher, you may want to reconsider.
U: Unstable snow. Have you heard any cracking, collapsing, whoomping? These are clear signs of instability.
TH: Thaw. Has there been recent warming of the snow’s surface due to sun, rain, or air temperature? Warming can increase instability and avalanche risk.
Being educated about avalanche safety can put you at more risk of being caught in an avalanche. How can that be you might wonder? Well, this boils down to heuristic traps that lead to dangerous decision-making.
Heuristics are rules of thumb that we use in everyday life to make quick decisions and solve problems, almost subconsciously. In avalanche terrain, one tool we use to identify these heuristic traps is the acronym FACETS.
F: Familiarity. Something that is more familiar to us feels safer. This looks like a slope we’ve skied dozens of times before, with no bad consequences.
A: Acceptance. This is the desire to fit in. This trap is often seen in mixed-gender groups. Mixed-gender groups are found to expose themselves to more obvious hazard indicators than single-gender groups.
C: Commitment or consistency. We’ve come all this way, we can’t turn back now. You’ve committed to friends, you’ve spent hours, and good money to be here.
E: Expert halo. Someone in your group with high knowledge or expert skiing ability, or simply the confidence they exude can influence the entire group and dampen all other concerns. If there is a perceived expert in the group, other group members might not speak up if they have alternative opinions, thinking that the “expert” must know what they’re doing.
T: Tracks/scarcity. The race for first tracks can cloud our judgment. In addition, the thought that the resource (fresh powder) is quite limited and you must go now while the getting is good.
S: Social proof or social facilitation. Previous tracks on a ski slope will give you a false sense of security and therefore does not mean it is safe. Just because other people are in the same zone, does not mean that zone is safe.
The acronyms ALPTRUTh and FACETS are simple tools that we use as a double-check. These acronyms are, by no means, inclusive of all of the factors that play into avalanche hazard, group dynamics, and decision making. Building a solid team is essential to successful backcountry travel.
But, keep both the ALPTRUTH and FACETS in mind each time you plan to travel in avalanche terrain. Even if it’s just outside the resort gates, these areas are indeed backcountry and are often unpatrolled and are not subject to avalanche control.
Are you interested in further improving your snow safety knowledge and staying sharp for your next backcountry adventure? Check out our current course offerings:
AAI CoursesWe are proud supporters of the American Avalanche Association. A3 is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to professional excellence in avalanche safety, education and research in the United States.