Pascal Haegeli

Pascal Haegeli

School of Resource and Environmental Management
Simon Fraser University

Chair title

NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management

Chair program

Industrial Research Chairs program


Associate Chairholder since 2017


Snow avalanches claim roughly 13 lives in Canada every year, making them one of the deadliest natural hazards. Most victims are backcountry recreationists, such as skiers, snowboarders, mountain snowmobilers and mountaineers, either making their own decisions or being led by professionally trained guides. In addition, avalanches threaten communities, utility lines and resource operations as well as causing traffic hazards and economic loss by blocking highways and railways. Avalanche risk is managed in real time by continuously monitoring weather and snowpack conditions to assess the hazard and determine its effect on the element(s) at risk. Mitigation measures are then chosen based on operational objectives.

The NSERC Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in Avalanche Risk Management aims to advance avalanche risk management comprehensively by conducting applied research that simultaneously targets hazard assessment and risk mitigation. This objective requires an interdisciplinary approach that builds on traditional, natural-science–focused avalanche safety and systematically integrates practitioner know-how using research methods from such areas as decision theory, risk analysis, geographic information science, and simulation modelling.

Dr. Haegeli’s IRC research program consists of two main themes. The first aims to improve our ability to assess avalanche hazard. The Chair will combine existing numerical models that simulate the seasonal evaluation of the snowpack with practitioner expertise to develop an expert system that automatically assesses the modelled data and provides an interpretation focused on risk management. The expanded model will improve the ability of avalanche forecasters in western Canada to assess the location, likelihood and severity of avalanches and to choose relevant mitigation measures.

The second research theme aims to improve our ability to manage avalanche risk when travelling in the backcountry. Mountain guides have tremendous expertise in avalanche risk management, but this knowledge has so far not been studied or systematically described. The lack of formal structure makes the process vulnerable to human errors and poses a significant hurdle for evaluation, targeted improvements and effective communication.

To improve our understanding of the terrain-selection process and quantify the associated risk, Dr. Haegeli collaborates with a large number of heli- and cat-skiing operations to collect data from the field. Large-scale operational hazard and terrain assessments are complemented by high-resolution GPS tracks of guides’ movements to produce rich datasets. These can be used to extract the intuitive rules used to assess the suitability of terrain under different types of avalanche hazard conditions. Combining this information with records of incidents and near-misses offers new quantitative insights into the risks involved in mechanized skiing and provides the foundation to develop evidence-based tools for improving terrain selection and minimizing avalanche risk.

Dr. Haegeli’s background combines academic research in snow science, avalanches and risk management with direct industry experience and strong partnerships throughout the Canadian and global avalanche-safety community. The close collaboration between the Chair and the partnering Canadian avalanche-safety organizations provides a unique environment for conducting an applied research program and developing evidence-based knowledge and practical tools for effectively improving avalanche safety in the operations of the industry and in the Canadian public at large.


  • Canadian Pacific Railway/Chemin de fer Canadien Pacifique Limitée
  • HeliCat Canada Association
  • Canadian Avalanche Association
  • Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing

Contact information

School of Resource and Environmental Management
Simon Fraser University



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