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Quantitative examination of terrain perception and its effect on ski run choices in expert heli-ski guides

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Terrain selection is the primary tool for managing avalanche risk during backcountry travel. While some research has examined revealed preferences in professional ski guides to better understand terrain-use choices, the exclusive focus on physical terrain characteristics pertaining to avalanche hazard has offered an incomplete perspective. I present a new framework that comprehensively captures all decision- relevant terrain characteristics and links these features to decision-making in heli-ski guides. Using survey data from two operations, I employed ordinal logistic regression models to quantitatively describe the relationship between specific terrain features and guide perceptions of accessibility, skiing experience, hazard potential, and “guideability.” A Poisson regression model linking these perceptions to terrain use at one operation clearly illustrates how guide decisions are trade-offs between hazards and operational benefits. The framework provides researchers interested in terrain preferences with a structured approach to describe terrain more completely, and it offers practical benefits to heli-ski operations and guides.
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