A pre-defined attitude towards approaching avalanche terrain based on conditions.

Strategic Mindset is a concept first introduced by Roger Atkins. It originated in the context of heli ski guiding, but can apply to recreational backcountry travel and other snow safety operations. Strategically adopting a mind-set implies deliberately adjusting your desires according to conditions and circumstances. Categorizing your mindset can be a useful starting point for making route decisions as well as for staying on target throughout the day. These mindsets include:

  • Assessment/ Season Opening: There is a high degree of uncertainty about conditions, such as when first encountering the terrain for the season, entering new terrain, following a lengthy period with limited observations, or after substantial weather events. Season opening conditions are analogous to working in a backcountry snowpack where huge spatial variability and a host of avalanche problems are possible.
  • Stepping Out: Conditions are improving and/or we are gaining confidence in our assessment. The ‘stepping out’ mindset covers a range from stepping out very cautiously to stepping out confidently. Stepping out cautiously occurs when there is limited confidence in extrapolation from the available observations; for example, when persistent slab instabilities are becoming less easily triggered and for large storm instabilities in the early stages of recovery. Stepping out confidently occurs when one is confident to extrapolate from the available observations.
  • Status Quo: There is no substantial change in conditions or in the hazard assessment. The evidence continues to support operating as before and the comfort level for exposure under these conditions has been reached.
  • Stepping Back: Weather events increase the hazard or new information causes uncertainty about the validity of the existing assessment. A small step back may result from minor or subtle weather changes while substantial weather events or observations of unexpected avalanches may result in a large step back.
  • Entrenchment: Dealing with a well-established persistent instability. Entrenchment is not a preferred operating mode and requires discipline to sustain it for the necessary time; this is the last resort short of closing operations completely.
  • Free Ride / Open Season: The hazard assessment suggests that only small avalanches are possible in very isolated terrain features, and there is a high degree of confidence in the hazard assessment.
  • Maintenance: Just prior to or just after the arrival of a storm system when the hazard has not yet increased significantly, but proactive measures are taken to observe or reduce the effects of arriving hazards.
  • High Alert: Unusual avalanche conditions resulting from large storms and/or problematic persistent weak layers create the potential for avalanches to exceed historic extents or to occur in terrain that is historically not hazardous.
  • Spring Diurnal: The hazard assessment suggests that the only substantial hazard is from wet loose avalanches during the afternoon thaw phase of the diurnal freeze-thaw cycle.