Black Diamond do a brilliant job of representing their brand and the products they make. This article could so easily be about the multiple digital catalogues that they release every season, or about their recent move into clothing. It is, however, about a joint collaboration with another company who also have a progressive approach to media – Powder Magazine. That collab project appeared this winter, it was called The Human Factor.
In the world of avalanche education heuristics are big right now. You can dig as many pits as you want, study endless snow crystals and eyeball weak layers all winter but none of that can account for the psychological elements that contribute towards the judgements we make. Understanding the ‘human factors’ that might influence the decisions a person or group of people make during their time in the mountains is a vital component in avalanche education.
“Although snow science is integral to understanding how avalanches occur, it’s our shared contention that sound decision-making is just as vital, if not more so, to staying alive while skiing.” John Stifter, Powder.
Black Diamond have been at the forefront of avalanche safety for many years. Along with producing one of the best ranges of shovels and probes out there, they have also recently added pieps transceivers to their collection. Then a decade or ago they developed the hugely successful and effective AvaLung – a simple and relatively inexpensive product that helps a buried avalanche victim breathe oxygen for longer. This winter, after many years of development, BD finally released the first line of JetForce airbag packs into the market. JetForce technology uses a battery powered fan to inflate the airbag rather than compressed gas and has many potential advantages over regular airbag systems.
Black Diamond collaborated with Powder Magazine to create The Human Factor. Powder Mag are an American ski magazine institution who have successfully made the transition into a purveyor of all round digital stoke. Their Flipbook series deserves particular praise along with content like this that manages to be both progressive in nature and also somehow timelessly beautiful.
The Human Factor came about after Powder’s John Stifter lost two friends in an avalanche that he himself survived in 2012. The many years of experience that Stifter and his group possessed didn’t stop the tragedy occurring and he started to look for ways to educate skiers in the vital role of heuristics within the avalanche environment. Powder Mag’s David Page began the journey that would see him investigate and document many avalanche incidents over the 2013/2014 winter in North America. In Stifter’s words
“Page analyzed what went wrong, listened to those involved, and worked to unveil tools to help us avoid more horror. The Human Factor is the outcome.”
The Human Factor became 5 individual multimedia episodes, each focusing on a separate incident. They attempt to tell the story of the incident through words, images and videos along with accounts from the survivors.
Avalanches are complex things. The science behind the processes that make them come about is not simple. There have been many books written on the subject over the years but very few are easy to digest quickly, in fact most are heavy going and require a lot of commitment from the average person to be able to absorb the facts and details.
In direct contrast The Human Factor’s digital format is clear, engaging and contemporary. Although it doesn’t touch on the snow science side of things, the observations made and conclusions drawn in each case provide a starting point for furthering one’s understanding of the many human related factors involved in safe travel through avalanche terrain. The Human Factor doesn’t pretend to be a substitute in any way for taking an avi class or spending time outside with more experienced mentors but I’m sure it will inspire many skiers and snowboarders to start down the path of improving their knowledge of avalanches and safe backcountry travel.
The first episode of the Human Factor was released last November at a time when the ski and snowboard community was still coming to terms with the deaths of the much loved and hugely experienced trio of Andreas Fransson, JP Auclair and Liz Daley in South America. During the early winter the web is an explosion of edits, webisodes and general powder stoke and this year The Human Factor brought a little sobriety and reflection to the online backcountry community. It’s cool that unlike many of the short films, GoPro edits and the like that tend to dominate ski and snowboard web space The Human Factor will continue to be pertinent in the future and not just be ‘consumed’ this season, only to be replaced with something else next.
Powder and BD should be applauded for attempting to use their influence and reach as a way of educating backcountry users. In many ways the online format of the Human Factor is just as powerful and perhaps more relevant to many skiers and snowboarders in 2015 as a book or film would have been. As more people get out and enjoy the backcountry it serves as a timely reminder that engaging with the issues involved in avalanche safety and remaining humble in the mountains is as important as ever.
Community Through Content is a regular series on The Path Less Trodden which takes a look at the best creative digital content from outdoor brands and retailers.