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A Note Concerning Avalanche Involvement Statistics

It is unclear what percentage of avalanche incidents get reported. Those involving fatalities are generally do get reported and investigated but it is unknown how many non-fatal incidents go unreported.

Therefore any statistics involving only fatalities are accurate while any involving overall involvements should be assumed to be pessimistic by some unknown amount.

The same bias should also be assumed for number of reported avalanches which is, in reality, a pretty worthless figure. Many avalanches occur in the backcountry and are neither observed nor reported. Even within ski areas there may be unobserved avalanches in closed areas during storms or overnight.

Another factor to keep in mind is the larger context of the number of backcountry users. Most avalanche accidents today involve recreation. It is often pointed out that the trend of accidents is one of noticeable increase. However, the number of backcountry users in avalanche terrain and exposed to the hazard is also increasing rapidly. To adequately asses whether there is an increase or decrease in safety figures on backcountry use are needed in addition to figures on accidents. In some cases people attempt to conclude something about this by data that seems relevant but this is impossible to quantify or attribute to particular reasons. During the pandemic in the 2020-21 season equipment sales reportedly skyrocketed and this was used as an indication of a dramatic rise in new backcountry users. However, the US government was handing out unfathomable amounts of money to many people. Many were not working and they were receiving $600 every month plus state benefits. As a result there were many people who did not need to go to work and also had plenty of free money to buy new gear. It is likely that the number of backcountry users did increase, but probably not in direct proportion to the gear sold.

So take most statistics with a grain of salt!

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