Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain

What is “Managing” hazard?

What do guides mean when they refer to “management” of avalanche hazard? The concept of hazard management includes an element of mitigation— appropriate information gathering to make informed and appropriate decisions so as to minimize danger while maximizing accomplishment.
Photo Andrew Wexler

The general framework that I follow is this:

1. Have a mental picture of the snowpack structure (to maintain this effectively you should have a dynamically updated document on your computer or a graph on your wall that you adjust as the winter season progresses). The CAA's forecaster blogweekly summary and outlooks are a great resource here.
2. Have a current hazard estimate including specific concerns & questions to be answered. 
3. Have a forecast of how Wx inputs will affect hazard & stability. 
4. Make observations & conduct tests to refine your stability evaluation. Be curious, but have a purpose.
5. Choose objectives appropriate for your stability evaluation. 
6. Leave yourself options. 
7. Stay aware of the influence of human factors.

If you remember nothing else from this, remember these two words: consistent process.  You should arrive at your stability evaluation via a structured process and then make route and line choices that are consistent with the results of that process.

This can break down in real-world conditions because of the influence of human factors: we all want to ski the "sick pow line, dude" and it can be pretty tempting under clear skis, with great snow and another group coming up behind us. One way of working around "heuristic traps" is to ensure that our route plans contain options whenever possible. Our commitment to a particular objective is much reduced if we have the option of defaulting to another, less agressive objective.

Within the context of our overall decision making framework, how do we obtain relevant information from our snowpits? How do we decide what to look for?

One model that I like is McCammon / Sharaf's Strength, Energy & Structure triad.  The objectives are to identify if a weak layer is present and if so what is the strength, potential energy and structure of the layer:

Depth & strength (number of hits) of most significant weak layer. 
Potential energy of weak layer (Fracture Character). 
Structure of snowpack adjacent to weak layer (Lemons).

A friend of mine recently asked me rather astutely if I ever made decisions that were inconsistent with my stability evaluation. Being human and subject to the same weaknesses as everyone else, the answer is, yes, of course I do. However, I try to stay aware of the occasions when I am breaking my own rules, do so with a realistic awareness of the consequences, and not endanger others with my choices (i.e. not while working).
Hey, is that all fresh debris down there? Wexler photo.