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How MBAs can help snowmobilers avoid avalanches

On the afternoon of March 6, 2012, five men drove their snowmobiles to Grizzly Lake, in the Powder Mountain area south of Whistler, B.C. The weather was clear, fresh and calm, and the snow-covered mountains spread invitingly before them. Though there had been some avalanches in the area recently, the conditions looked ideal.

In a practice known as high-marking, two of the sledders rode up a steep slope, intending to turn around and descend when they could climb no further. One went right, while the other decided to go left.

It was a decision that cost the second sledder his life. The activity triggered a large avalanche; by the time his companions could find him and dig him out, he had no pulse. He was pronounced dead shortly afterward.

Over the past five winters, snowmobilers have accounted for more than half of avalanche deaths in Canada, a proportion that has grown with the popularity of the sport. Yet solving this problem is far from easy, because it is tough to define. Why do snowmobilers take risks? What level of risk is acceptable – and to whom is it acceptable? Should the sport be restricted in some way? Or are snowmobilers the best judges of their own safety?

If you think of master of business administration graduates as purely about increasing corporate bottom lines, they may not seem the ideal candidates to work on a nuanced problem like this. But business students have great skills and idealism to contribute; to be effective, however, they need to learn in new ways.

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