Avalanches are one of Canada's deadliest natural hazards. SFU currently offers the only research program in the country fully dedicated to avalanche safety. The program is stewarded by the new Industrial Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management, Dr. Pascal Haegeli.
Swiss native, Haegeli, came to Canada in 1998 to pursue his doctorate at the University of British Columbia. "With my love for the mountains and backcountry skiing, it wasn't long before my research turned to avalanche safety," states Haegeli. After graduating in 2004, he worked on various projects for the Canadian avalanche community - most notably on the Avaluator, a decision aid for amateur recreationists traveling in avalanche terrain.
In 2015, several industry partners including Canadian Pacific Rail, HeliCat Canada, Canadian Avalanche Association and Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing came together to fund SFU's first Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management. Two years later, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) came on board to match the original funds raised and ensure the continuation of the research program through 2022. Says Haegeli, "The NSERC funding has been crucial for ensuring the future of avalanche research in Canada."
Dr. Marc Fortin, Vice-President, Research Partnerships, NSERC shares his thoughts on the unique funding partnership when he declares, "we are proud to provide support for this important platform that will conduct research and development collaborations and dynamic interchange between academia and industry."
The program, under Haegeli's guidance, has already made great strides. Some of the research currently underway aims to improve the ability to assess avalanche hazard and to improve understanding of the risk management process when traveling in the backcountry. To date, Haegeli's team has collected GPS tracks of more than 30,000 ski runs on 4,300 individual guiding days under a wide variety of different hazard conditions. This will is just one way the team is developing a rich data set for the proposed research.