There's a new groundswell happening in avalanche safety. A new mission called Project Zero, and spearheaded by the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE), aims to reduce the number of avalanche fatalities in the U.S. to zero by the year 2025.
Project Zero was presented by Tom Murphy, the operations director at AIARE, on Thursday at the Snowsports Industries of America (SIA) trade show, going on now in Denver, Colo.
"It's a bold mission, yes, but we need to do something we've never done before," Murphy said. "Everyone is creating gear that people can use to access the backcountry. But they also need to provide a corresponding safety message that goes along with that gear."
Although the details of the project are still being worked out, Project Zero will ultimately provide one consistent safety message that companies within the ski and snowboard industry -- from gear manufacturers to filmmakers to event organizers to ski resorts to athletes and more -- can get behind and support.
"In part, it's our effort to bring consistency to the avalanche awareness message, deepen its breadth by involving all stakeholders, and move it toward an understanding of the risk management and human factor issues that need to be considered when recreating in avalanche terrain," Murphy said. "So much of the awareness message is focused on rescue, and while safety equipment and the knowledge to use that equipment is of utmost importance, informed decisions is the real message we're attempting to help backcountry travelers understand."
The project is modeled after Vision Zero, the Swedish Parliament's 1997 goal to reduce auto accidents in Sweden to zero by the year 2020. Since the late 1990s, Sweden has reduced the number of road fatalities by nearly 50 percent.
Project Zero was first introduced at the 2012 International Snow Science Workshop in Anchorage, Alaska, last summer, in a presentation by Dale Atkins, the president of the American Avalanche Association.
Murphy, who spoke about the project on Thursday, says the proposal is in part a response to the SIA's Backcountry Task Force, which recognized the need to create a safety message for backcountry travelers.
"We need to create a message that makes it cool to be part of a new culture that embraces responsibility for your own safety," Murphy said.
[For more information on backcountry safety, check out our six-part series, The Avalanche Problem.]