An acronym for 6 heuristic traps commonly associated with avalanche accidents.

FACETS is an acronym presented by Ian McCammon to describe a set of 6 heuristic traps that were common in his study of recreational accidents. The list below describes the conclusions drawn from McCammon’s research, with quotes exemplifying what those heuristic traps might look like in the backcountry. 

  • Familiarity: Parties traveling in familiar terrain tend to make riskier decisions than parties traveling in unfamiliar terrain. This effect is especially pronounced for parties with substantial experience and training. “I’ve skied this route safely a dozen times, we’ll be fine today.”
  • Acceptance: Group members want to be accepted by members of their parties, and they tend to engage in riskier activities to draw approval from their peers or those whom they hope to impress. Accident parties that included females made riskier decisions than parties of all males or all females. “If I ride this rad line today, my buddies will be impressed.”
  • Consistency: Parties that were highly committed to a goal – a summit, ski slope, or an objective in deteriorating weather – made riskier decisions than parties just out for a day. This effect was most pronounced in parties of four or more. “We said we were going to the summit today, I don’t care that conditions are changing quickly.”
  • Expert Halo: Accident parties often contained a de facto leader – someone who was more experienced, older, or more skilled. Novices were more likely to follow the leader into dangerous situations than when novice groups made decisions by consensus.“I’m nervous about riding that slope, but since my ski partner has her Avalanche 2 certification and doesn’t seem concerned, then it must be OK.”
  • Tracks/Scarcity: Parties took more risks when they were racing a closing window of opportunity or finite resource, such as competing with another group for first tracks. “If we don’t ski this line today, it will be all tracked out by tomorrow.” 
  • Social facilitation: Groups get emboldened into riskier decisions when other parties are present. When skilled parties met other people in the backcountry, they were more likely to take risks than parties that were less skilled. This effect was most pronounced in groups with the highest levels of training. “I’m a little nervous about being in this avalanche bowl but that group is here too, so we’re probably fine”