Role of intuition in the decision process of expert ski guides
Patterson, Iain Stewart
High quality decision-making can be produced through a sophisticated analytical process in addition to an intuitive process. A high quality intuitive process is dependent on an extensive repertoire of previous patterns generated by decision outcomes. Intuition is frequently poorly understood and often dismissed as unreliable and irrelevant. Yet there is a noteworthy sector within the literature that suggests otherwise (Glöckner, 2009; Smith, 2007). Termed dual-process (Evans, 2010), the combined strength of intuition and analysis forms the basis of how expert ski guides make decisions in avalanche terrain. Typically, the quality of the decision process is described as being contingent on the evolved expertise of the decision maker. Deliberate practice (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer, 1993) aimed at the development of context specific expertise provides the foundation. Ski guides are charged with the role of conducting guests through a constantly changing, hazardous environment with the goal of maximizing the guests’ rewards, within a risk envelope that does not eliminate the potential for a fatality. The challenge for ski guides is to formulate an operational context within a feedback environment that is plagued with inconsistencies and burdened with massive negative consequences. The ski guide decision process is influenced by the depth and breadth of expertise, with rapid pattern recognition generating a sense of confidence. However misleading environmental feedback can complicate the perception of decision quality. When nothing bad happens, poor decisions can masquerade as good ones. This may support the development of a faulty pattern recognition process. Research that helps to describe the innovative practices and extant knowledge of mountain guiding will help to harmonise theory and practice. There is considerable knowledge entrenched within the daily activities of the Canadian mechanized ski industry, as the average annual fatality rate is just under one and a half fatalities per 100,000 skier days. However it is arguable that even this number of fatalities is too many and all efforts should be made to reduce the number of fatalities. Data were contributed over two seasons (2008/09 and 2009/10) by a self-selected group of 35 heli-ski and snowcat-ski guides working in British Columbia. Mixed methods were used to analyse three sources of data. An initial quantitative analysis of the participants’ background experience and 96 event reports (62 good day reports and 34 near-miss reports) was used to provoke qualitative questions of interview data. The findings of this study address the issue of how and when intuition plays a role in ski guide decision-making. Decision-making in avalanche terrain is a complex process and professional guides have well developed strategies to help them manage the challenges. Years of training in analytical decision processes are supported by a wealth of available snowpack and weather information. Guiding teams provide a valuable peer support network to further the sophistication of the decision process. Yet despite the wealth of information available to support an analytical decision, most decisions are influenced by an intuitive factor.