Sixth Annual Snow and Avalanche Workshop to focus on backcountry decision-making

JACKSON, Wyo. — Backcountry use was already growing across the country before the pandemic. But this winter, with backcountry gear in extremely high demand and avalanche classes nearly sold out, the Tetons and surrounding areas are expected to be busier than ever.

With the pandemic elevating stress levels across the board, it’s tempting to predict that compromises will be made when it comes to decision-making in avalanche terrain. As a community, steps need to be taken to make sure that doesn’t happen.

In its sixth year, the Wyoming Snow and Avalanche Workshop is more important than ever to help backcountry enthusiasts get ready to make those inevitable decisions.

Scheduled for October 23-24, WYSAW will be a virtual event, streamed live on the Teton County Search and Rescue website.

The workshop will include live presentations and panel discussions, as well as pre-recorded talks, an online vendor fair and a list of raffle prizes worth thousands of dollars. Registration is free and can be done through the TCSAR link. A full schedule of the show will be published a week before the event.

Taylor Mountain avalanche. Photo: Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation

Scheduled presenters have more than 200 years of collective experience in avalanche science, forecasting and backcountry safety. While the event should not replace a formal avalanche education, it is the perfect opportunity for experienced users to freshen up while helping newcomers find a welcoming path of entry to furthering their knowledge.

“No matter how much experience you have, there are always new perspectives to ponder, things to learn and people who can offer you mentorship,” says Liz King, Preventative Search and Rescue Manager for TCSAR Foundation. “WYSAW offers the unique opportunity to hear from the snow and avalanche experts and learn what’s on their minds, and help you prepare to manage the complex risks associated with spending winter in the mountains.”

The Sixth Annual WYSAW is presented by Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation, Backcountry Zero, the Bridger Teton National Forest Avalanche Center and Central Wyoming College.

Below is a list of scheduled speakers at WYSAW 2020:

Jake Hutchinson, avalanche professional for nearly 30 years, including working as a guide, forecaster, educator and K9 Search & Rescue
“Left of Whoomph: A systematic approach to situational awareness in the mountains. Using elements of the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Hunter program, we can identify cues and train responses to avoid human and environmental traps in avalanche prone terrain.”

Jenna Malone, physician’s assistant, ski patroller at Alta, guide with Powderbirds, instructor with the American Avalanche Institute, medical provider on Denali’s West Buttress and newly elected Councilperson for the Town of Brighton, Utah
“Betting Your Life: Why Avalanche Forecasting is Poker, Not Chess”

Bud Wheeler, longtime rescue pilot with 32 years in the U.S. Army, plus 14 years on Breckenridge Ski Patrol
“Crew Resource Management: Communication, leadership, teamwork, listening skills, motivation and dealing with strong personalities as they all apply in the conduct of your mission.”

Jen Coulter, Field Team Leader and avalanche forecaster in Southern Rockies for Avalanche Canada, and lead instructor for the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association
“Snowmobile Compaction: A Subject Matter Expert Survey”

Matt Steen, Director of Snow Safety and guide at Telluride Helitrax
“Common use radio channels in high use avalanche terrain”

Heather Thamm, former ski patroller at Alyeska Ski Resort and forecaster for the Chugach National Forecast Avalanche Information Center
“Scary Low, Forecast Challenges with Low Probability, High Consequence Avalanche Problems”

Liam Fitzgerald, Snowbird’s first snow safety director, worked for several decades as a forecaster in Little Cottonwood Canyon
“Lessons Learned from 40+ years in the avalanche world”

Drew Hardesty, forecaster with Utah Avalanche Center for over 20 years, Jenny Lake Climbing Ranger in Grand Teton National Park for 15 years
“On the Nature of Forecasting — And Why We Get it Wrong”

Panel Discussions at the end of each session will feature experts from the snow-safety field and winter enthusiast industry who will attempt to unravel how the pandemic might influence the upcoming season. From backcountry ethics to business decisions, these interactive panel discussions will be broadcast live and will invite viewers to send in comments and questions.

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