Introduction to Mountain CRM

Mountain CRM is an introduction to Crew Resource Management and Human Factors (HF) in Avalanche Terrain.

Crew Resource Management (CRM) is primarily focused on the cognitive and interpersonal skills needed to manage a task, in our case working in avalanche terrain. These non-technical skills include the mental processes used for gaining and maintaining situational awareness, for solving problems and making decisions; while interpersonal skills include communication and a range of behavioural activities associated with teamwork and cooperation.

Train your brain for avalanche terrain

What you will learn…

✔️ Enhance your awareness of human factors and human fallibility

✔️ How to prevent and manage group errors

✔️ To use CRM knowledge as an outdoor professional, to balance making a living with safety

✔️ Integrate CRM knowledge, skills and attributes to help prevent incidents in avalanche terrain

Where did it start? Risky Shift

My interest in human factors started with one image (below). Demonstrating human fallibility and risky shift, the image captures a group of experienced outdoor professionals arguably in the wrong place at the wrong time. Exposed to avalanche hazard in the multi aspect bowl of 'Observatory Gully' on Ben Nevis.

It is only fair to say that I was there as well, and subject to the same powerful heuristics and bias of my colleagues. With the benefit of hindsight, this could easily be viewed as an error on this day, although one in which we came to no harm.

Recent research in cognitive science has explored the "local rationality principle":

It says that what people do makes sense to them at the time - given their goals, attention focus and knowledge - otherwise they wouldn't be doing it. In other words people do not come to work to do a bad job. - Dekker, S. (2014) The field guide to understanding 'human error', CRC Press.

This image was shown by Neil Johnson and I as part of the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) Winter Lecture series.

In one of the Q&A sessions we were asked the question as to whether we had any strategies for mitigating against bias or having conversations within groups in these circumstances. My answer was probably less than satisfactory, but it has led me to explore human factors, and ask some searching questions.

I believe that part of the answer is in Crew Resource Management (CRM), and what I am going to refer to here as Mountain CRM. So dive in and train your brain for avalanche terrain. //


In producing Mountain CRM I would like to acknowledge the enthusiasm and support of a number of people, without whom this project simply would not have been realised. Firstly, Graham Stein for seeing the opportunity to draw from CRM in helicopter Search and Rescue and apply it to the mountains. Duncan Jackson, for his vision in seeing the parallels between the pressures of commercial fixed wing aviation and mountain guides balancing the need to make a living with safety.

Dr Stephen Hearns of Core Cognition Ltd and Consultant in Emergency and Retrieval Medicine, for his insight into achieving peak performance in emergency medical and rescue situations in Scotland.

Dr Oliver Hamlet, Axiom Human Factors and Applied Psychology and Human Factors (APHF), University of Aberdeen. Oliver's contribution includes the section on 'Cognitive Readiness', a relatively new and emerging area in Human Factors and non-technical Skills.

Lee Patterson, RHG Consult Ltd and formerly Station Navigation Officer, RAF Cranwell. His guidance in leadership and management being gleaned in part from his experience training fast jet navigators at the Tri-national Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE).

IFMGA Mountain Guides Neil Johnson, Paul Warnock, Dave Hollinger and Iain Peter, who have variously contributed, commented and shaped Mountain CRM, some without even realising it.

Misha Gopaul generously agreed to the use of screenshots from FATMAP, which are used in some case studies and to demonstrate our perception of slope angle.

Finally, thank you to those who supplied case studies and anecdotes, some of whom remain anonymous. These bring the theory to life but do so by highlighting the tragedy which we seek to avoid.

Complete and Continue