A few weeks ago I visited the International Snow Science Workshop (ISSW) in Innsbruck for wePowder. Visiting an international conference full of scientists felt like coming home for me – the line at the coffee machine during the breaks was always too long. Before I traveled to Innsbruck, I was triggered by the title of one of the talks: "Keeping up with Jeremy Jones" by Andrea Mannberg. (Check the links below for the complete publication) Using the name of a legendary snowboarder to reach more people seems quite obvious, so I did not need much persuasion to go here.
Based on the two pictures of Instagram posts from Jeremy Jones and me, you might think that I am also influenced/inspired by Jeremy. And exactly this is what this lecture was about.
Andrea Mannberg has done research into our preferences when selecting terrain for off-piste descents, and has found that many people are being influenced by what others are riding.
Example: if you have had an epic day, but later on Instagram you notice that your buddies rode even steeper lines somewhere else, this might affect the satisfaction you get from your own day. The feeling you have about your own day may not be that special anymore.
However, your contentment about your own day could also increase if you find out your buddies rode less steep terrain. If your contentment is influenced in such a way, then you are a so-called positional rider. I must admit I sometimes feel these effects in my private riding, too. Just look at the almost identical Instagram posts from Jeremy and me, with a clear difference in the number of likes. I get the feeling I have to ride more and steeper, more exposed lines to keep up with Jeremy, and this feeling might well influence my terrain choice and so the risk that I face.
The latter is actually what might happen! Mannberg and her colleagues have demonstrated that the terrain selection of a positional rider is actually linked to accepting a riskier descent (in this research there are two hypothetical descents, one with significantly more risk and the other with less) and the willingness to accept more risk. It is good to be aware of this, because your contentment might be affected by all sorts of posts on social media and other channels, so that you will eventually run into more risk yourself.
The research also shows that this effect is present for people who have attended avalanche courses. Of course I want to shout out this is not true, because it is the last thing I want to hear. People who take avalanche courses should make better decisions. Fortunately, her research also shows that people who have attended an avalanche course are less likely to accept riskier terrain. But in avalanche courses it would be useful to talk about positional preferences and create more awareness about this. This is something I definitely intend to take with me next season during the courses I give as a guide.
But now my question: be honest, have you ever felt bad after a picture prefect powder day because on the social media posts of friends the powder was deeper and the lines steeper. Be honest huh ;)!
Further reading/helpful websites: