2nd Annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop

Today I attended the 2nd annual ESAW organized by Christopher Joosen, USFS Lead Snow Ranger of the Mount Washington Avalanche Center. Building upon last year’s successful event Chris organized professionals from the avalanche industry from around the country and Canada to give enlightening presentations all geared towards sharing information and promoting new ideas in the ever evolving field of snow science.

John Fuller Gymnasium

I counted around 90 in attendance with many familiar faces from various Search & Rescue groups, a few former students, some former colleagues as well as some local guides.

The day was packed with information, starting with a science heavy “Art & Science of Snow Penetrometry” by Eric Lutz of the Datmouth-Glaciology Research Group. Eric led us through a brief journey of the invention, and evolution, of snow based penetrometer’s. If you don’t know what that is, it’s simply a very complicated, and beautifully engineered fancy stick that you poke into the snow to measure multiple layers of density.

Then Julie LeBlanc of the Haute-Gaspesie Avalanche Center gave a visually enticing look at the Chic Choc Mountains of Quebec and the relatively new avalanche safety programs developed there.When she flashed the new guidebook to the region quite a few were dismayed as there is no English version of the book… yet. I’ve had quite few students head to this region, only a 11 or so hour drive from here, so it’s time I brush up on my French and start planning a trip up there!

After a short break Chris moderated a round table discussion concerning wet snow avalanches, with Blase Reardon (USFS Sawtooth National Forest Forecaster), Sam Colebeck (U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory a.k.a. The Man of Snow*), and Brian Johnston (USFS MWAC Snow Ranger). In an interesting format these three, along with occasional audience interaction, discussed the potential reasons behind snow science being seemingly behind in its knowledge of wet snow avalanches when compared to how much research and understanding is given towards drier snow avalanches. While skeptical of a public round table of sorts the conversation flowed naturally and I think we all refined our thoughts on the tendencies of wet snow.

Before breaking for lunch we had a series of “short sessions” including Jeff Lane (USFS Snow Ranger) giving an overview of weather and snow related research projects in the Northeast. Jim Gilinto of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, returned this year with a presentation similar to his last year on the effects of Hurricane Irene in the Adirondacks (they doubled their avalanche terrain in that storm).

Blase Reardon gave a great, and often comical, look into his local Sawtooth Avalanche Center Operations, and Eric Lutz sold me on the educational value of using a “tilt” board. I would ask for one for Christmas if I could, but I have a friend who I am hoping would love to help me make one!

After lunch we enjoyed the following presentation by Blase, which was as well presented with just the right comic relief as his first.

Journey to the Inner Mind: How an Avalanche Forecaster Thinks About Avalanche Safety

AMGA/IFMGA Guide Jessie Williams, of Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides, gave an informative talk titled “Avalanche Terrain of the Adirondacks: A Guide’s Methodology for Hazard Recognition & Avoidance”. Along with many great analogies I walked away with a much better picture of the terrain over in the Dack’s.

Then Sam Colbeck, aka The Man of Snow*, apologized that he was going to give his same talk from the previous year simply titled “Snow Physics and Avalanches”. I was thrilled! Last year I think I grasped about 40% of everything he eloquently presented. Due to repetition this year I feel like I have a solid hold on about 65% of it. If I could listen to this great talk one more time I am certain I would achieve a passing score! Seriously, I’m certain only a very small group of people in the world have the level of understanding of snow that this man does, and it is always great hearing him talk!

Last up was my good friend Jeff Lane (USFS Snow Ranger), who shared recent developments in avalanche safety equipment with us along with a call to arms to keep manufacturers on their toes by encouraging them to continue designing life saving device with one goal in mind, saving lives. I couldn’t agree more, I really don’t need my beacon to act as anything but a beacon. That’s what my iPhone is for…

As is custom, we moved over to IME for a social hour to mingle, check out some vendor tables, and continue the sharing of ideas.

Social Hour

This event is an excellent kick-off to the season as it gets my mind back in avalanche mode. 6 months is a long time not to be thinking about avalanches, and since I can’t put it any better I’ll quote Christopher Joosen:

“We will always have lots to learn about snow, avalanches, and the natural world so we should never feel done, finished, or static about our need for higher education.  There are no experts, we are all students.”

I’ll be heading out to Steven’s Pass in Washington State in early January for some formal training, but I most look forward to the 9 avalanche courses I’ll be teaching this winter. I learn so much from my students engaging questions and weekly trips into the field each winter, and I’m sure this one will be no different.

Well… I hope it’s a little different than last winter. Let’s get some snow!


*not an official nickname for Sam

One thought on “2nd Annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop

  1. Thanks for the nice write-up … however, although Julie LeBlanc’s presentation was indeed visually enticing, you neglected to mention her even more enticing Quebecois accent!


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