Using Citizen Science to Document Terrain Use and Decision-Making of Backcountry Users

Johnson, J., & Hendrikx, J. (2021). Using citizen science to document terrain use and decision-making of backcountry users. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, 6(1), 1–15.

This study focused on using citizen science as a methodology for collecting data in the field of snow science, specifically in the context of backcountry skiing and avalanche risk. The researchers aimed to gather detailed information on variables related to risky behavior and create a risk-taking model.

The research was carried out by enlisting volunteer participants who engaged in backcountry skiing. The data collection process consisted of three steps. First, participants filled out an online preseason survey providing demographic information, skiing ability, and avalanche-related skills. Second, participants recorded their ski tours using GPS units or GPS-enabled smartphone applications and submitted the GPS tracks to the researchers. Finally, immediately after submitting the GPS data, participants filled out an online survey that asked about their group size, experiences, tour details, and other relevant information.

The study incorporated two sets of variables for constructing risk-taking models. The first set included demographics (such as age, avalanche education, gender) and group dynamics (goals of the day, number in the group, leadership structure, skills). This information was collected via survey. The second set of variables were technical data requirements such as location, distance traveled, slope angle, time on slope, slope exposure, and snowpack conditions as extracted from the citizen contributors' GPS tracking data.

The data collected through the surveys and GPS tracks were used to analyze risk and travel strategies as skiers encountered avalanche terrain. The researchers focused on terrain features, particularly slope angle, as the central variable for understanding avalanche avoidance and decision-making. The GPS tracks provided information on terrain interaction, and the survey data captured demographics, decision-making preferences, and travel practices.

This work demonstrated citizen science as an effective methodology for collecting data on backcountry skiing and avalanche risk. As a backcountry skiing enthusiast interested in how GIS can make the sport safer for all, I recognize how valuable this data is for better understanding the human component of avalanche danger. I have a few ideas