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Exploring the effectiveness of avalanche risk communication: A qualitative study of avalanche bulletin use among backcountry recreationists

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Warning backcountry recreationists about the risks from snow avalanches is a particularly challenging communication task due to the complexity of the phenomenon, the voluntary and repeated nature of the exposure, the diversity of recreational activities, the range in individual’s risk management skills, and the need for self-determined risk management decision-making in an environment with rare corrective feedback. To better understand the effectiveness of daily avalanche bulletins for improving recreationists’ safety in the backcountry, a research team conducted 46 semi-structured interviews with an inclusive sample of recreationists to shed light onto how travel decisions are made and how avalanche information is incorporated. The present study combines a qualitative applied thematic analysis with quantitative statistical techniques (topic models, simple correspondence analysis, and multinomial logistic regression) to detect, examine, and classify patterns in recreationists’ bulletin use into an Avalanche Bulletin User Typology. The resulting classification system establishes an evidence-based foundation for improving avalanche risk communication that offers actionable recommendations to enhance recreationists’ ability to conceptualize and manage avalanche risk with bulletin products.
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