Many climbing and ski mountaineering accidents are the result of human error. There are a number of types of human error, but the most disconcerting and common type results from a non-event feedback loop.
--I've been doing it this this way for years and nothing bad has ever happened.
--We skied the slope all day and it was fine. How were we to know that it would slide?
--The boot-track went right under the ice cliff. I just went the way everybody else went.
The thinking process behind non-event feedback is predicated on the following belief: Nothing bad happened last time and nothing bad happened to someone else; therefore, nothing bad will happen this time to me. The psychology of non-event feedback is complex, but its very existence leads to following reality:
The crag that you climb the most, the slope that you ski the most, the mountain that you've been up the most times...these are the most dangerous places that you will ever go.
Non-event feedback takes on a new dimension with group dynamics. A beginner may follow a competent leader up a mountain. The leader may look at the conditions and decide that they're safe. If the leader doesn't go through his entire thinking process, the beginner may then make the assumption that the conditions are always safe.
Avalanche research indicates that the likelihood of skiers tackling a dangerous slope increases dramatically after one person successfully skis the slope first. In other words, once someone sees someone else get away with something, they subconsciously believe that they can get away with it too.
The only way to avoid getting stuck in non-event feedback loops is to constantly question yourself. Is this safe today? Am I just following the leader? And lastly, am I responding to the conditions as they are or as I wish they were?
--Jason D. Martin
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