Multiple Goals and Precommitment

An excerpt from a recent paper on the importance of goal abandonment in avalanche terrain.

One way for backcountry skiers to create goal elasticity is by regularly assessing whether or not their plans are robust (work well across a wide range of circumstances and are flexible to unknowns), brittle (work well under limited conditions) or poor (very vulnerable to breaking down) (Cook & Woods, 1999, p. 23). If plans appear brittle or poor then alternative options should be discussed. Moreover, backcountry skiers can go a step further and apply precommitment strategies to their pre trip planning. Via this method individuals “prospectively restrict their access to temptations” (Crocket, Braams, Clark, Tobler, Robbins, & Kalencher, 2013, p. 391). In a backcountry setting this would mean that given the presence of variables A and B, slopes C and D are automatically off limits. This is particularly helpful during moderate or considerable forecasts during which people often wait to see what micro scale/slope specific conditions are like before they make a decision. However, this decision-making method is dependent upon employing the willpower to walk away if conditions prove to be too fragile. Unfortunately, willpower is finite and can erode over time (Crocket et al, 2013, p. 391); therefore decisions made at the end of a day are subject to decreased margins of safety. Conversely, precommitment allows decision makers to abandon plans and or develop an alternative set of objectives before they enter a dangerous environment.

If you want to learn more about the importance of goal setting and desires, check out this recent article from Roger Atkins. Good stuff.


  1. Good article by Atkins. It would be interesting if the Forest Service were to post an ‘avalanche mindset’ level as well as a ‘conditions’ mindset. It could say ‘we recommend your attitude be this, as the conditions are that.’ Right now it’s something like ‘skiers should be cautious of such and such’ which isn’t quite the same. Trying to reset people’s Risk Homeostasis level seems to work best when the conditions are made personal. Not sure how well I’m expressing myself, my point being that a more expressive scale of mindset would do much to change people’s risk levels.

    1. Some of the language used in the forecast is pretty subjective. Especially with new buzzwords/terms like “sketchy-moderate” (moderate is sketchy) floating around. “Possible” and “likely” are tough to interpret, especially if someone hasn’t experienced an accident. How do you imagine “human triggered avalanches possible” if you have never triggered and avalanche? Very different meanings for different people. Although I don’t think the current avy danger scale intends to compensate for individual interpretation. I like the idea of incorporating language into the forecast that prompts riders to think about how their attitude/desires match the forecast. Could look like…..Low = fragile or brittle plans, Moderate = Robust Plans, Considerable = Robust plans, High & Extreme = Ride lifts. Or something like that….

  2. Thanks for the post, Blake. So much of what you talk about works really well in whitewater, but I’m not sure if Atkins’ ‘Strategic Mindsets’ does. Whitewater conditions don’t change in the same way that avalanche conditions do, and yet the type of person who makes these decisions is often one and the same. Sea kayaking is a better fit. I’d be interested to hear what other people think about the human factors in common between these three activities.

    1. Ahhhh yes where the snow goes when it melts….rivers. I am still amazed by you river folk. Some day when I get bored with bikes (or get better at swimming) I will jump into a boat….until then I will continue to take my H20 in it’s frozenish state. In the process of my lit review I frequently thought about diving down the rabbit hole of comparing and contrasting whitewater with avalanche terrain. I think it would be interesting to hand out the same RM survey to both groups and then see where major correlations and divergences exist. Have some free time this spring?? Any interns looking to minor in experiential ed?

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