Avalanche Victim Age Rising

Avalanche Victim Age Rising

Conventional wisdom suggests that we should get smarter as we get older. (A small boon in an otherwise sucky process.) But recent research may rob us of even this small succor: Erich Peitzsch, a doctoral student at Montana State University and snow scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Glacier National Park, released a study that states the average age of avalanche victims is climbing. According to a recent article by Tristan Scott in the Flathead Beacon, Peitzsch, the former director of the Flathead Avalanche Center who has worked at the USGS since 2007 studying avalanches, delved into the topic when he noticed the trend in the field. The more research he did, the clearer it became that the trend was actually statistically significant: The average age of avalanche victims increased from 27.6 years old between 1950-1989 to 34.3 years old from 1990-2018. (His full results can be found in the Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism.)

One such shifting social factor is the family-career balance, which could affect who visits the winter backcountry when.

For example, [Peitzsch] noted that more people are getting married and having children at comparatively advanced stages of life, meaning a 40-year-old dad sneaking out for a rare Sunday tour might assess risk differently than a 20-year-old with fewer responsibilities and more opportunities to spend in the mountains.

“People who were once saddled with responsibilities in their 30s aren’t now,” he said.

Peitzsch said he hopes the results help tailor avalanche warning services to use a wider range of methods to disseminate avalanche safety information, including products that target older, and potentially more experienced, users.

Peitzch also points out that the “Know Before You Go” program, for example, primarily targets youths, and suggests the potential need for an additional program targeting an older age group.

As for us, we’ll keep searching for another benefit to aging that softens the blow of creaky knees and crow’s feet…. And continue to stay safe no matter how infrequently we’re able to get out there.

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