12th Annual Utah Snow & Avalanche Workshop Open and Motorized Sessions November 2.

Blog: Do Safety Devices Make Us Safer?

Nice post Bruce. You must have thought of moral hazard, a bridge between Drew’s video “Knowledge, Awareness, and Wisdom” and the existence of safety gear. Moral hazard is closely related to risk homeostasis in that insurance often causes people to take on more risk that can be damaging to others. Big banks engage in risky ventures because they know they will be bailed out if they get in trouble. The U.S. government implicitly insures the large banks at the center of the financial system, not because the big banks deserve help, rather because a meltdown of the monetary system is catastrophic for society as a whole. Having insurance often causes people to have riskier practices than if they didn’t have insurance. In this sense, the availability of insurance causes people to create a hazard to others, which has a moral dimension. When my risk is isolated to me, then my behavior is not a hazard to others. This is risk homeostasis. When I center punch south facing Superior in a foot of fresh because I have a transceiver and an airbag, where I wouldn’t if I didn’t have these devices, then my use of safety equipment is creating a public safety hazard for the traffic and buildings below. This is risk homeostasis for me, and a moral hazard for everyone else transiting Little Cottonwood Canyon below me. When safety devices cause individuals to put other people at risk, then there is a moral hazard.
Peter Donner
Thu, 2/18/2016
<p>Great point, Peter. &nbsp; I always love my intellectual&nbsp;conversations with you because I come away with whole new ways of thinking about the world. &nbsp;No, I have never heard the term &quot;moral hazard&quot; before. &nbsp;But you&#39;re right. &nbsp;It&#39;s an extension of risk compensation into other realms I had not considered. &nbsp;Thanks so much. &nbsp;I might not be thanking you when I&#39;m up in the middle of the night, looking out the window at the nearly full moon tonight and pondering further....</p>
Fri, 2/19/2016
Hmm, I'm coming up on three decades of being a bc only rider. 2nd year with an airbag courtesy of Xavier de la Rue and Elyse Saugsted's rides. I find myself actually avoiding descents I have done for years and instead opting for lines with lower consequences-usually those without timber-to increase the potential effectiveness of riding with an airbag. Still, I get the most feeling of security from belaying into start zones and/or suspect aspects on the way up a route before jumping in despite how long it takes, actual confirmation of belief about snowpack in a specific location over feeling I have magic gear. I might just be a conservative outlier now having started as a teen who was building experience and now a sole financial supporter of 4. I find I have come full circle and approach slopes again in more the way I did when I was 19 and was still discovering everything about snowpacks. Knowledge that only one of my life insurance policies "should/might" pay out in case of an avalanche keeps me honest about when I choose to even go look at slopes.
Dave H.
Thu, 2/18/2016
Hello Bruce, thank you for the insightful blog. For someone like myself who spends a fair amount of their time solo in the backcountry and can't rely on partners and equipment, hopefully good judgment is the key. But knowing I'm without quick help, the pull of steeper slopes and good skiing is strong. Changing attitudes is very difficult. Thank you
Fri, 2/19/2016
you have a partner? they are above you...? your not smashed into pulp? the most important safety gear is your head...would you go on a slope you wouldn't --->if you have the GEAR? no is a good answer--- would you change your behavior ? due to gear? no is a good answer... do I want to carry a heavy airbag pack... NO is my answer
it works IF...
Sun, 2/21/2016
Interesting....I ski with an airbag and to me it's just another tool in my bag of tricks. I rely on my 40+ years of experience and the training I have received from Avalanche professionals and the AMGA.... This I feel is my edge in the back country. I was involved in a university study that focused on how people react to risk after having a serious accident. I was hurt in the Cascades a few years back and I can tell you it crosses my mind from time to time when I'm off the grid. Did getting hurt change me....yes it did...did additional Avalanche gear change me, I think not but I do agree it makes me safer if things go sideways.
Andy langendorf
Sun, 2/21/2016

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