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Double Black Diamond Slopes

Risky Business?


Janice P. Wittstrom
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Mount Royal University


This case study tells the story of a 14-year-old boy, "Danny," who wants to go on a snowboarding adventure with his friends, but is unable to provide any details when asking his parents for permission. Danny is understandably excited, although completely unaware of the risks associated with being a beginner at a major ski resort with limited, if any, adult supervision. Students are asked to identify the risks involved in such a trip and to identify the information needed in order for his parents to make an informed decision about his participation. The story introduces the concept of "acceptable risk," which depends on an individual's subjective appraisal, and "risk assessment," which can be objectively investigated or measured.  These definitions are used to introduce risk concepts into an undergraduate level geological hazards class focusing on floods, earthquakes, landslides and other "hazardous" geological processes. This case study could also be adapted to any course at the high school or undergraduate level where an understanding of planning, insurance, or control is necessary to protect people, structures or habitat.

  • Distinguish between acceptable personal risk assessment and risk analysis.
  • Understand that not everyone has the same risk tolerance and that personal risk-taking may be based on emotional response, lack of understanding, or denial.
  • Understand that risk analysis is based on data including costs, measurements, probabilities, historical facts, times, and scientific investigation.
Keywords: Risk; acceptable risk; hazard assessment; risk assessment; probability; geologic process; risk analysis; geological hazard
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF, PowerPoint
Type/Method: Discussion
Language: English
Subject Headings: Earth Science   Environmental Science   Geography   Geology   Natural Hazards   Science (General)  
Date Posted: 1/28/2019
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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Supplemental Materials

The PowerPoint presentation below is used to review the distinction between personal acceptable risk and risk assessment.

  risk.pptx ( ~1.6 MB)

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