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Pascal Haegeli to hold Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management

December 10, 2015
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By Justin Wong

Avalanche expert Pascal Haegeli, a professor in Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, has been named to the Faculty of Environment’s new Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management.

Snow avalanches are the deadliest natural hazard in Canada, killing on average 12 people each year. Approximately 80 percent of all Canadian avalanche-related fatalities have taken place in B.C.

Haegeli, an avid backcountry skier, says that working in avalanche research allows him to combine his passion for the outdoors with his scientific curiosity.

Research reveals that in more than 90 percent of fatal avalanches, the victims or somebody in their group triggered the avalanche. This clearly highlights that avalanche accidents aren’t random events and that failures in perception and decision making play a critical role.

“A more advanced scientific understanding of the avalanche phenomenon alone would not have prevented many of these accidents,” says. Haegeli. “Instead we need to take our existing understanding of the avalanche phenomenon and combine it with knowledge on communication, decision-making and risk management to develop practical tools that make it easier for backcountry travelers to make better informed choices.”

The chair will work closely with partners in the Canadian avalanche community to conduct interdisciplinary avalanche research. Focusing on safety and risk management, they will create tools to prevent future avalanche incidents.

This Faculty of Environment chair has been established through a unique collaboration with a number of contributing partners from the Canadian avalanche community. These include Canadian Pacific, Helicat Canada, Avalanche Canada Foundation, Avalanche Canada and the Canadian Avalanche Association.

A total of $1,025,000 in funding over the next five years will be available for Haegeli to conduct his avalanche research.

“The close collaboration between academic researchers and practitioners is crucial for developing effective tools that manage avalanche risk. These groups bring very different perspectives and skill sets to the table and innovation requires the combination of both.”