The Silverton Avalanche School is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public on how to play safe in avalanche terrain. All proceeds support San Juan County Search & Rescue.
Since 1962 the Silverton Avalanche School has educated skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers, ski patrollers, search and rescue personnel, and public safety personnel about the hazards of avalanches. Over 4,000 students have learned how to recognize avalanche hazards, determine snow stability, organize and carry out rescue operations and handle avalanche emergencies.
Silverton is the place to learn about avalanches and how to avoid them. At 9,318 feet, the town located in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, 50 miles north of Durango, Colorado. Silverton is surrounded by the best backcountry terrain in Colorado and numerous avalanche paths — a natural avalanche laboratory — providing students with an active and accessible classroom.
Why choose us? Our courses are taught by internationally recognized members of the American Avalanche Association (A3), AIARE, and the Canadian Avalanche Association. Our instructors include avalanche forecasters, snow scientists, ski patrol, heli guides, mountain rescue specialists and IFMGA mountain guides. All have gone through a rigorous training and education process and bring both practical and theory to the the table. We take an evidence based approach to avalanche education and you will find the most up to date information in our courses. We empower students with knowledge and experience so they can venture into the backcountry safely and confidently on their own.
We adhere to the AAA’s Guidelines for Avalanche Course Curriculum. Our instructors have a passion for education and love to apply their experience in both the field and the classroom. They all have deep operational experience in avalanche terrain. Here are descriptions of each of our instructors in alphabetical order:
Instructor, Recreation, Pro, snowmobileMike has lived in Silverton for ten years and has worked as a ski guide in Colorado and Alaska for the last 8 seasons. As an avid backcountry skier, he has established many first descents in the San Juans. Mike Barney is Level 3 certified and has gone through AMGA Ski Guide training. He is an instructor for our Level 1 and 2 courses and is also a frequent Snowmobile Instructor. He has a wealth of experience in different snow climates and has been in the gauntlet of tough decision making. Mike has been a heli ski guide in Colorado, South America, Iceland and Alaska. Mike serves on the Board of Directors for the Silverton Avalanche School. Mike is also a coach for the Silverton Ski Racing Team. Mike says “As a skier living in the San Juan Mountains you have the perfect classroom to learn how avalanches work.” Through this he said “I hope to help others safely ski, snowboard, and snowmachine in these mountains.” He is a sponsored rider for Trew Gear and owns Silverton Lumber where he enjoys milling wood in the summer.
Ice climbing avalanche awareness, backcountry skiing, Co Owner Chicks Climbing & Skiing
Kitty began skiing when she was 6, joined ski patrol when she was 15, and took her first avalanche course when she was 21. Since then, she has skied, climbed, and guided in avalanche terrain throughout the Western US. Professional work includes winter Colorado Outward Bound courses and guided ascents for the American Avalanche Institute in Alaska, Peru, Bolivia, and Nepal. Personal climbs include new routes in Alaska and Kyrkygzstan as well as the third ascent of the West Pillar of Makalu. She was a founding partner of Exum Utah Mountain Adventures and is a partner of Chicks Climbing and Skiing. She has been skiing and climbing in the Ouray area since 1999. Kitty specializes in educating on avalanche awareness on big alpine objectives, ice climbs and backcountry skiing.
Instructor, Recreation, backcountry
Jonathan Cooper (“Coop”) grew up in the Pacific Northwest and has been playing in the mountains since he was a teenager. This was about the same time he made the fateful decision to strap a snowboard to his feet, which has led to a lifelong pursuit of powdery turns. Coop started teaching with us last season and brings a great mix of education and guiding. Professionally speaking, he has facilitated many circles of students with Northwest Outward Bound School while leading mountaineering expeditions. During the winter months he can be found chasing snow, and passing on his passion for education and the backcountry through teaching avalanche education for in southwest Colorado. Similarly, his passion for wilderness medicine has led him to instruct for the Wilderness Medicine Training Center. He also writes reviews for wildsnow.com.
Director, instructor, Recreation, Pro, Rescue, Tactical, CustomJim is the Director of the Silverton Avalanche School. He has a Level 3 professional avalanche certification and is an AIARE Level 1 and 2 Course Leader. He leads the Professional Program team and has been through the recently developed AAA Professional Training Workshop. He has a life long passion for mountaineering and backcountry skiing. He develops custom courses and teaches for both the tactical and industrial programs. He loves both the mountains and mountain rescue and has often combined these in his travels and work. He has an extensive background in emergency planning and management and natural hazards assessment. He is a Certified Emergency Manager for the State of Colorado and is a registered EMT. He has extensive rope rescue and rope access experience and training and holds a SPRAT certification. Jim is also a registered EMS trainer in Colorado and teaches wilderness emergency medical topics. He has published scientific research in the field of conservation biology, developed a pioneering project on rescue informatics and has worked and played in a wide range of remote locations in mountainous regions. Jim is the Emergency Manager for San Juan County, coordinates the San Juan County Avalanche Deployment Team with Flight For Life and is Captain of the San Juan County Search and Rescue team.
Instructor, Recreation, SnowmobileMike Duffy is a pioneer in snowmobile avalanche education. He leads our snowmobile program and teaches from awareness to skills courses to the Snowmobile Level 2. You can find out more about him at Avalanche1. Mike is a Certified Instructor through AAA. He is also a rescue/avalanche team leader/avalanche mission coordinator for the Vail Mountain Rescue Group and works as a BCA technical representative for the snowmobile audience. He is a graduate of the National Avalanche School, National Academy of Winter Guiding, AVPRO course through A3, and a member of the American Avalanche Association. Mike has been a mountain snowmobiler for over 20 years and has pioneered snowmobile avalanche education in Colorado, having taught over 100 snowmobile specific avalanche courses statewide in the past five years. He is sponsored by BCA and works on snowmobile specific product testing and development for them.
Instructor, RecreationBruce has worked as a guide for Utah Mountain Adventures and White Pine Touring since 1996, teaching avalanche education, backcountry travel and rock climbing. He has taught individuals from 4 to 80 years young-though he admittedly loves the opportunity to connect with the younger ones who are just beginning their quests for mountain adventures. Bruce both taught and helped develop various avalanche courses for Utah Avalanche Center, Logan Avy Forecast Center, Oakley School, National Ski Patrol, Silverton Avalanche School, Telluride Mtn Guides, Brighton Ski Patrol, University of Utah, Westminster University, and Utah State University. He worked as a ski patroller, avalanche technician, and forecaster for the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center, Utah Department of Transportation, Brighton Resort, Alta Ski Resort, and the Solitude Mountain Resort. Bruce has been living and skiing the in Wasatch Range for over 30 years, compiling over 3000 days of backcountry travel and skiing. He is certified as a Level III Avalanche Forecaster/Educator. His dream is to combine his passion for travel, play and educating in the mountains with his new found profession of counseling. He calls this idea: “Walk and Talk”.
Instructor, Recreation, TransportationKen is based on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, in Maple Ridge, certified by the Canadian Avalanche Centre as a CAA Level 1 technician and currently has been teaching Avalanche Skills Training (AST) Level 1 to the general public for 4 years. He is an active volunteer member of Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue for 16+ years and is certified as a Ground Search Team Leader, Rope Rescue Team Leader, Search and Rescue Manager, and Organized Avalanche Response Team leader with Search and Rescue. He is also certified by The Justice Institute of British Columbia and the British Columbia Provincial Emergency Program as Rope Rescue Instructor and Ground Search and Rescue Instructor, and has assisted in instructing numerous Organized Avalanche Response courses to other Search and Rescue personnel here in British Columbia. When he’s not teaching, mountaineering, ice-climbing, or backcountry skiing, he works at Telus Communications as a Microwave Radio Technician (getting paid to be on mountaintops!!) and is employed part-time by the British Columbia Ambulance Service as an IV-endorsed Primary Care Paramedic.
Guest Instructor, Avalanche Rescue Professional, Medical, Recreational, TacticalManuel Genswein is a native of the Swiss Alps who lives in Meilen and has done snow-safety work in 29 countries. Using an electronic engineering background, he has also developed rescue products and techniques that have been applied around the world. His rescue research has been presented at the International Snow Science Workshop, peer reviewed scientific publications and popular publications. He has innovated in both avalanche rescue technology and techniques that are now considered common practice. He operates the eponymous consulting organization. He is very involved in international organizations such as UIAA and ICAR, helping set the international standards for avalanche rescue. You can read a great profile about him in Outside Magazine. We have Manuel visit us for specialized rescue courses on an annual basis.
Instructor, Recreation, Pro, TacticalAndy is a senior instructor for the Silverton Avalanche School and serves as a curriculum adviser. Andy began his avalanche education when he triggered, and was caught in an avalanche in 1984. Since then he has learned as much as he can about snow by getting a Masters Degree at Montana State University studying how terrain parameters affect avalanche frequency and pursuing his doctorate at the University of Wyoming studying bridging in the snowpack. He worked as an avalanche forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center in Silverton and Boulder, Colorado and as an avalanche forecaster at the Andina Mine in Chile. He has been a teacher for the Silverton Avalanche School since 1995. Currently he teaches at Fort Lewis College. He is the outgoing secretary and member of the research committee of the American Avalanche Association. When he’s not teaching, Andy likes to sled with his kids on any amount of snow.
Instructor, Recreation, Pro, Backcountry, Custom, Chicks Climbing & SkiingAngela is one of very few women IFMGA Mountain Guides in the US. She has over 30 years of experience guiding rock, alpine and ski mountaineering endeavors around the world. Angela teaches for our Pro program and our women’s program. She is a lead guide and avalanche forecaster for Telluride Helitrax and forecasts for the Ouray Silver Mine throughout the winter. Angela is an Instructor Team Lead for the American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA), serves on their Technical Committee and is a co-owner of Chicks Climbing and Skiing. Angela completed the 15-day Canadian Avalanche Association’s Professional Level 2 course and examination, her Level 3 with both AAI and AIARE and holds an explosives license with the state of Colorado. Angela was awarded the 2011 AMGA “Guide of the Year Award.” Read about her perpetual stoke in this Outside Magazine profile. She’s lived in Ridgway, CO for almost two decades and enjoyed 28 seasons of backcountry skiing and ice climbing in the San Juan Mountains.
Instructor, Recreation, ProSandy is a Certified Avalanche Instructor with the American Avalanche Association and an AIARE Course Leader Level 1 and Level 2 and has attended the new AAA Profession Trainers Workshop Currently, Sandy owns and operates the Pass Creek Yurt offering year-round adventure lodging in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Sandy began the avalanche education portion of her career at: Silverton Avalanche School, Telluride, Babes in the Backcountry (with her hero Betsy Armstrong), CDOT, local SAR, Adams State University – non-motorized and motorized courses. Her first backcountry Level 1 avalanche course 1981 from Norm Wilson, Lake Tahoe, CA. Her background also includes: Wilderness First Responder, Professional Ski Patrol Supervisor, Squaw Valley USA, CA in the ’80’s & 90’s, Professional Ski Patrol and Snow Safety Director, Wolf Creek, CO in the mid-90’s, Mountaineering Course Director for Outward Bound 80’s and early 90’s. Her passion is understanding why we make bad and good decisions and how we can do better both in our lives and in avalanche terrain.
Instructor, Pro, Recreation, Tactical, Pro program developmentDoug Krause is a life-long backcountry skier with years of professional snow safety, guiding and avalanche education experience with 27 seasons among the Rocky Mountains, Central Andes and Alaska. That doesn’t count his first twenty winters in Vermont. He is an AAA Certified Instructor and has worked around the Ring of Fire (Alaska, South America, New Zealand, Japan) on snow and avalanches. He is the former Snow Safety Director at Silverton Mountain Ski Area. He holds a Level 3 avalanche certification, is an EMT and has attended the new AAA Pro Trainers Workshop. Doug teaches and designs courses for our Professional Program. Doug lives in Silverton, Colorado. He also serves on the Board of Directors for SAS. He likes powder and scrapple and dislikes whiners and paying to ski. He is a frequent contributor to The Avalanche Review. Krause is very low key, so we will let you read about him in Powder. He also operates Slide a popular podcast about his experiences around the snow globe.
Instructor, Recreation, Tactical, Wilderness medicalLeo has taught for SAS for several years. Leo is an EMS Training Captain / RN, ParamedicFirefighter with Durango Fire & Rescue in Durango, Colorado. Much of Leo’s pre-hospital medical experience (over 26 years) has involved both ground ambulance paramedic responsibilities in the Durango area and 9 years as a critical care flight nurse / paramedic with the Air Care Medical Flight Program based in Farmington, New Mexico. He has extensive wilderness medical and mountain rescue experience. Leo has logged more technical rescues than he can count. Leo is the technical rescue advisor for the San Juan County Search and Rescue Team. Leo has been an active member of the La Plata County Search and Rescue in Durango since 1985. He is also an instructor with Rigging for Rescue based in Ouray, Colorado. He has conducted numerous mountaineering trips in the around the US including Alaska and Canada.
Instructor, Recreation, Backcountry, Custom, TacticalZach is a full-time year round instructor and mountain guide. With Colorado as his home base, Zach enjoys a varied schedule from avalanche courses to technical rock and alpine ascents that lets him travel across the U.S depending on the week or the season. With a daily life that either involves a pair of skis or a harness (or both!) Zach is passionate about sharing experiences and knowledge with every guest he works with. Outside of Silverton Avalanche School, Zach teaches and guides with American Alpine Institute, Peak Mountain Guides, and is an adjunct instructor for Western State Colorado University. He is an AIARE 1 Instructor, has taken several programs within the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA), holds a Level 3 avalanche training certificate and carries a undergraduate degree in Recreation Outdoor Education.
Nicolas Palma Meyer
Instructor, Recreation, ChileNico is our partner for our Chilean courses. He operates Rutas Australes. He is one the few UIAGM/IFMGA guides in Chile and is very involved in developing the mountain guiding community in South America. Nico has guided throughout Europe and South America and brings a true passion and love of the mountains to his approach.
Instructor, Recreation, Tactical, Wilderness medicalStoney was born in southern California (which he doesn’t talk much about), grew up in western Colorado (which he’ll talk about at great length), and after a bit of globetrotting has chosen to stay in Silverton for a time. He has played outside his whole life, but started making it [somewhat] economically viable in 2009 at the Colorado Mesa University Outdoor Program as a Student Trip Leader. Since then, he has acquired and maintained WFR and paramedic certifications, AIARE Level II, swiftwater rescue training, Rigging for Rescue technical ropes and patient care training. In his free time, he is the Assistant Director of the Silverton Ambulance, an active member of San Juan County Search and Rescue, and sometimes makes it home to hang out with his obnoxiously affectionate chocolate lab, Clark.
Admin and Course LogisticsKaitlyn helps keep the whole operation running and may be the person you talk with on the phone. She is spearheading our new outreach efforts with the CAIC. After graduating from the University of Denver with a degree in Environmental Science, Kaitlyn had a whirlwind of diverse jobs from dog handling on a glacier in SE Alaska to snowboard instructing in Telluride. She now lives in Durango with her dog Bindi where they are passionate about mountain biking, finding peace in nature, traveling to new places and painting. She is a splitboarder/snowboarder but also tries to send it on skis which is a sight to see. Overall, Kaitlyn loves to spend time with close friends in the mountains laughing, learning and feeding the never ending drive to experience new places.
Instructor, Recreation, ProAmy has been a professional ski patroller at Telluride for over 10 years and thoroughly enjoys its terrain, artillery, Class A avalanche area status, and comprehensive snow safety program. She is also a heli-ski guide in Alaska and has worked as a ski guide, wilderness medicine educator, and field biologist not to mention being an AIARE Level 1 and 2 Course Leader. Amy has a Level 3 certification and has attended the AAA Professional Program Workshop. She is a member of our new Professional Trainer Program. She has spent 12 years doing technical search and rescue, including public outreach education about mountain safety and spreading her love for rescue & safety education. Amy seriously likes explosives and helicopters nearly as much as powder skiing and relishes in calling the San Juans home!
Instructor, Recreation, ProBilly has been in Crested Butte for 17 years and has been forecasting for the Crested Butte Avalanche Center for 7 years. Billy’s enthusiasm for snow and skiing is infectious. He is currently the Snow Safety Director for CS Irwin Cat skiing Operation. He worked for 7 years with Crested Butte Professional Ski Patrol and previously worked as a snowcat ski guide for Irwin Lodge. Billy has worked for Outward Bound For 15 years in Colorado, Utah, and Alaska. He is a certified level 3 avalanche practitioner, a certified AIARE avalanche instructor and teaches for the Silverton Avalanche School. Billy as well teaches wilderness medicine for WMI of Nols. When it’s not winter he can be found hiking, biking, and climbing in the Elk Mountains or rafting & kayaking in the Grand Canyon.
Santiago (Chago) Rodriguez
Instructor, Recreation, Pro, Custom, Science support, technical advisorChago started his journey as an avalanche educator back in 1998, but his science background as a Control & System Dynamics Engineer attracted him to soak in everything related to snow science, fortunately regular participation at ISSW have somewhat satiated his addiction to snow science. In January 2013, Chago left behind Corporate America and is pursuing a PhD in Geophysics and snow science from Boise State University, where he is a Cryosphere (frozen water) researcher. Chago is a AAA Certified Instructor, AIARE Level 1 and 2 Course Leader. Chago holds a Level 3 avalanche certification and has conducted the AMGA Ski Guide course. Chago heads up our Chile program and loves combining science, education and skiing. Chago has worked as a ski guide and a snow safety director for a backcountry skiing operation and served as a Technical Director for two avalanche education organizations.
Assistant Director, Instructor, Recreation
Mel started her snowboarding in New Zealand and spent a lot of her young adult life ski bumming between New Zealand and Canada. She lives in Durango with her husband Mitch, but bases herself in Silverton in the winter. She is an AIARE Level 1 instructor and splitboard instructor. Mel keeps the operation rolling behind the scenes.
Mel is a long time snowboarding Ski Patroller at Purgatory, Avalanche Educator, and bike race organizer. She likes her biking, gardening and eating tasty cheeses!
Instructor, Recreation, Pro, Tactical
Jayson is one of a handful of American IFMGA / UIAGM Mountain Guides is based out of Boulder, Colorado and is the lead for the international program at Colorado Mountain School. Jayson has been the Owner/Operator of Crested Butte Mountain Guides from 2007-2014, until he sold the company to local Irwin Guides. Jayson consistently guides internationally and with a focus on Europe. He is a past member of the Crested Butte Professional Ski Patrol; holds a Colorado Blaster’s License for Avalanche Control work & was a past Forecaster and the Board Member for the Crested Butte Avalanche Center. Jayson is an AIARE Level 1 and Level 2 Course Leader, and holds an AIARE Level 3 Certification as well. He has been heavily involved in AIARE over the past 10 years, teaching multiple different course formats and in different places during that time, as well as being involved in some of the curriculum development for AIARE along the way as well.
Instructor, Pro, Recreation, Snowmobile, Transportation
Johann is a resident of Stewart, British Columbia, with Cabins in the Cassiar Mtns, and Happy Valley, Coast Mtns. He has worked as an Independent Avalanche Consultant working with some of the leading avalanche company’s providing forecasting, control work, training and mitigation measures. He works for the Canadian Ministry of Transportation on avalanche forecasting and mitigation. He has worked foor the British Columbia’s Ministry of Transportation as a Senior Avalanche Technician for 9 yrs with the last few years as Supervising the Bear Pass Avalanche Program in Stewart. The area is one of the most active avalanche regions in the world.
Johann is a Canadian Avalanche Association Industry Training Program Instructor, and an Instructor for the Canadian Avalanche Skills Program Level 1 and 2. Johann has been teaching Avalanche courses for over 15 years. He is a Canadian Avalanche Association Active Professional Member, Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association Member, Instructor and retired Senior Avalanche Dog Team. He has been snowboarding since 1977 and was the 1st snowboarder to complete the CAA industry Level 1 and 2 courses. He also is an Instructor for the BC Provincial Emergency Program Avalanche Rescue training.
Instructor, Recreation, Pro, custom
Since he was a child, Andrew has been obsessed with the mountains. Andrew holds a Level 3 avalanche certification and is a Level 1 and 2 course leader and instructor. Thanks to several influential mentors, Andrew has gained loads of snow experience skiing in the San Juan backcountry over the last 14 years. Andrew has worked as a backcountry ski guide for Silverton Powdercats,based on Molas Pass. He also guides for Telluride Mountain Guides in the winter. Andrew works as a snow research technician for the Center For Snow and Avalanche Studies, enabling him to dig very deep snow pits and tinker with weather stations.