Group-think most likely big contributor of Stevens Pass avalanche disaster

This year my family switched to Crystal Mountain Ski resort, but for the last 4 years we skied at Stevens Pass where the Avalanche disaster took three people's lives.

Avalanche killed experienced backcountry skiers

Three skiers killed in a Washington state avalanche on Sunday were highly experienced at backcountry skiing, according to media reports, and one was the head judge of the Freeskiing World Tour, a competitive circuit for extreme skiers in the United States, Canada and South America.

The three, ski tour judge Jim Jack, Chris Rudolph and John Brenan, were among a group of a dozen or so skiers who were attempting to ski down a slope near the Stevens Pass ski area in the Cascade Mountains, about an 80-mile drive from Seattle. Among the group were staffers of both ESPN and Powder magazine, who identified the victims and gave accounts of the incident.

We checked with some of our Stevens Pass friends it was a somber day on the mountain as many knew someone in the group.

One of the points made in the CNN article

Doug Schnitzspahn, editor-in-chief of Elevation Outdoors magazine, told CNN that a kind of group-think takes over in these situations, with skiers wanting to be there with their peers.

"You think, 'All these people are either professional skiers or they knew what they're doing, they are out here,'" he said. "You're trained to make certain decisions, but it's not always humanly possible. If I had been there, I would have skied that line with those guys. That's what shakes me up."

Think about this, the editor-in-chief of Elevation Outdoors would be with these people skiing.  Is this a decision or a group-think mindset?

Identifying group-think-

  • Group members stereotype non-members and label them as enemies or outsiders not worth negotiating with or worrying about
  • People hesitate to air any discomfort, doubts or uncertainties they feel about the group decisions or policies, so that consensus seems unanimous
  • Reluctant to shatter complacency group members do not bring information or evidence that does not conform to the groups expectations and stereotypes to the groups attention
  • The group discusses only a few alternatives and reaches a decision quickly concentrating only on good points
  • The group feels invulnerable leading to excessive optimism and risk taking
  • The group ignores or rationalises warnings or signs that it is operating under false assumptions, making poor decisions or developing poor strategy
  • There is strong pressure on group members to conform to group norms

Many disasters are caused by group-think.  Consider this when you build your data center teams.  How many data center disasters have group-think as a major cause?

My wife and I never ski back-country, because it is not worth the risk.  I don't think we have super human strength, and no technology is going to save you if something really bad happens.  Skiing fresh powder in low traffic areas may be a thrill, but other than your ego being satisfied, does it do any really good?

When we ski with our kids we are always telling them they need to ski with a buddy and be safe.  and, they are skiing faster than mom and dad now.