AIARE Decision Making Framework (DMR)

AIARE Decision Making Framework (DMR)
May 10, 2015 Webmaster

The following is a summary of the AIARE DMR, please see tho original webpage for the full and authoritative description.

Human error is inevitable. We experience it in our daily activities, typically with insignificant consequences: we forget to charge our cell phone, start the dishwasher, or water the plants. However, when we choose to recreate in the mountains, human error can result in tragedy. Therefore, a system of communicating and managing risk on a group basis is required. The American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE), has formalized such a process and offers a series of tools to help facilitate it.

Below provides an overview of the decision making process necessary to manage risk in the backcountry. A team traveling into avalanche terrain works to implement the decision making process through planning, observing and communicating. This team works together toward achieving the ultimate goal: returning safely.


Backcountry decision making is a continuous process that starts before the trip begins and constantly affect one’s actions until the trip ends.

1) Plan:

Prior to travel in avalanche terrain, a group’s effort to establish communication (Teamwork), understand current conditions (Observe), anticipate hazards, and plan realistic options and contingencies lays the foundation for good decisions in the field. Trip plans often detail specific time plans, route options down to the slope scale, where to gather field observations and choose between terrain options, even navigation plans for poor visibility. Another component, emergency response planning, ensures that the group is prepared to manage unwanted situations like an injury, broken equipment or an avalanche accident.

2) Observe:

Before Choosing Terrain, while building a Plan and in the field, a Team evaluates current conditions through first-hand observation and by gathering information from other sources. These observations are made in the three information categories of avalanche activity, snowpack, and weather. In the field, the group must actively and continuously observe and gather relevant local (drainage – slope scale) information and compare it to the bulletin and other information gathered prior to the trip. Observation quality and quantity directly affect the reliability of a groups terrain decisions.

3) Teamwork:

Teamwork begins when making a plan, resumes as a group gathers gear and information preparing for travel, and continues repeatedly each time that team communicates and decides together at critical junctures in the field. Human factors are dynamic and require constant monitoring. Human factors within the group have the potential to affect trip preparation (Plan), our ability to recognize clues in the field (Observe), and to make safe Terrain Choices.

Choose Terrain:

This fundamental choice defines our risk management in hazardous terrain. A group’s choice of “where to go” implicitly broadcasts its goals, how stable they believe the snow to be, their group’s skill and fitness, emergency preparedness, the depth of planning and confidence in each other as backcountry partners. The bottom line is that terrain selection in the mountains is a life or death matter. The choice of where to go should be a consensus decision, made by all group members.

Travel Wisely:

Manage the group to further reduce risks. Move through terrain cautiously and utilize appropriate travel techniques. Bear in mind, a travel technique should never be applied to justify moving through a hazardous piece of terrain.


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