The Silverton Avalanche School is an arm of San Juan County Search and Rescue. We are dedicated to educating the public on how to play safe in avalanche terrain. The School has been educating the general public, professional rescuers, law enforcement about avalanche avoidance since 1964. The school was founded by the San Juan County Sherrif’s Department. Silverton is surrounded by avalanche paths and high mountain passes making it the ultimate learning laboratory to understand and avoid avalanches.
SAS operates under special use permits in the San Juan National Forest and the Gunnison Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management
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Learn more about our organization on Guidestar
SAS is dedicated to delivering mountain safety education to the recreational and professional audience with the goal of reducing accidents and fatalities. SAS formed the professional training progression for avalanche workers in 2014. SAS is working with the industry to create standards and promote innovate avalanche training and risk management techniques.
Our staff are dedicated avalanche professionals. SAS is a A3 certififed Pro Course Provider. SAS delivers AIARE recreational programs and motorized avy education.
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.
Our Philosophy towards Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
The Silverton Avalanche School embraces and values diversity when it comes to race, class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, mental and physical ability, and age. In order for SAS to achieve its mission “to reduce avalanche accidents through education”, we commit to celebrating diversity, working towards equity, and practicing inclusion in all of our work. SAS was born in a hard scrabble mountain town that has had a challenging economic history. Out of this history is a respect for all living beings.
- Diversity: SAS understands and values two simple truths: 1) there are many ways to experience and spend time in nature and the outdoors, and 2) our public lands and open spaces belong to all of us. For SAS to reach its mission, we must celebrate diversity in the outdoors and actively work to ensure all people and communities have encouragement and opportunities to safely explore the natural world.
- Equity: SAS understands that not all students start on equal footing when it comes to opportunities to experience the outdoors and strives to close the equity gap in our advocacy and programmatic work.
- Inclusion: SAS will employ best practices to foster an inclusive environment, striving to ensure a variety of perspectives, individuals, and organizations are welcomed and valued in our meetings and activities, particularly at the leadership level.
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 American Avalanche Association Guidelines for Avalanche Course Curriculum. SAS is a member of the International Commission for Alpine Rescue, one of six in the United States. 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:
Professional educator, accomplished adventurer and celebrated storyteller Michael Ackerman hails from Colorado’s Western Slope. Embodying over two decades of professional backcountry experience, expert technical skills and hard-earned wilderness wisdom, Ack has made his mark as one of the preeminent adventure guides and outdoor educators in the American West. Since completing a BA in Adventure Education in 1999, Ackerman has worked as a rock, mountain, splitboard and river guide, professional ski patroller, avalanche educator, wilderness medicine trainer, SAR technician, Outward Bound course leader, and collegiate faculty member. Ack leads ski mountaineering adventures, off-piste alpine tours, split-board expeditions, high mountain hut trips, mountain skills/search and rescue/tactical and avalanche training courses. He is a professional member of the American Avalanche Association, veteran Course Leader for the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education and serves on the Board of Directors for the Friends of the San Juans.
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, Custom
Jim is the Director of the Silverton Avalanche School. Jim oversees the entire program and works on strategic development. He has a Level 3 professional avalanche certification and is an AIARE Level 1 and 2 Course Leader. He oversees the Recreational and Professional Program teams. 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, Snowmobile
Mike 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.
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, Military
Whether it was in the military as a point man, post-service taking wounded veterans into the mountains, or working as a mountain guide and avalanche educator, Josh has been leading people through objective hazards for more than a decade. First receiving formal mountain training as a Navy SEAL in becoming the “lead climber” for his unit, Josh has continued to pursue professional education and is working his way through the AMGA track.
He has a complete obsession with being outside, and loves to spread his infectious passion for the outdoors to anyone who is willing to step outside. Josh is also a professional athlete who holds the record for climbing and skiing/riding from the summit of all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks in just 138 days, and is a member of the party who successfully completed the first ever ski/splitboard traverse of the entire Sangre de Cristo Range. Outside Magazine wrote about the 14ers project, and shared news of the traverse.
Josh will be completely stoked to forge a deeper appreciation for the wild places, our public land, and the snow that blankets them with anyone who encounters him on a SAS course or anywhere else for that matter.
Guest Instructor, Avalanche Rescue Professional, Medical, Recreational, Tactical
Manuel 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, Tactical
Andy 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 & Skiing
Angela 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.
Chris started Ski Patrolling in 2000. He was certified by Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment (CRAD) with his avalanche dog Luna in 2003. In 2010 he became Ski Patroller for Beaver Creek Ski Resort and joined the Vail Mountain Rescue Group. He became the Avalanche Operations Director for VMRG in 2017.
Chris has his blasters certification and has enjoyed being a route leader for many years. He is also heavily involved as a forecaster for Beaver Creek Patrol.
In the summer months, Chris is the Operations Manager and Raft Guide for Lakota Guides in Avon, CO.
Instructor, Recreation, Pro
Sandy 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, Recreation, Tactical, Wilderness medical
Leo 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, Pro
Amy 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!
Karin enjoys sharing her love of the backcountry with others. The mountains are an amazing classroom, and Karin has spent the vast majority of her life learning, growing, and being humbled in the mountain environment. She began working professionally in the avalanche industry in 2003 and has spent the last 15 years as an outdoor educator, avalanche course instructor, technical guide, ski patroller and forecaster.
Karin is a recreational avalanche course leader and a professional avalanche course instructor as well as a full-time ski guide. She’s often found teaching custom AIARE courses designed around both the backcountry skiing and avalanche education needs of her guests and would be happy to work with you in creating your own customized course. She is currently trained by the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) in the Ski and Alpine disciplines and is AMGA certified as a rock guide. Karin received her professional training in both Canada and the United States and is trained to the Pro Level 2 standard. She is a professional member of both the Canadian Avalanche Association and the American Avalanche Association. She grew up learning the craft of backcountry skiing and climbing in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, worked throughout western North America and now calls Crested Butte, CO home in addition to working throughout the state.
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.
Outreach Manager, Instructor, Recreation, custom
Spending his childhood, unsupervised, at the Santa Fe Ski Area Jasper’s love for snow began at an early age. Years spent ski racing laid the groundwork, but winter storms and cancelled races became more fun than bashing gates and competition. As a natural progression Jasper began backcountry skiing across the American West. With 16 seasons of off-piste experience Jasper makes Silverton his home where groomed runs are almost as rare as stop lights.
His affiliation with Silverton Avalanche School began as a student, and was followed by an internship in 2018. He is now SAS faculty for Recreational Track courses, an AIARE certified instructor, and holds a Pro 2 certification. As SAS Outreach Manager he organizes special events such as the 4 Corners Snow and Avalanche Workshop.
Jasper is a Professional Member of the American Avalanche Association and the American Mountain Guides Association. Through the AMGA Jasper is an Apprentice Alpine Guide working towards Mountain Guide Certification. He is an EMT with Silverton EMS, member of San Juan Mountain Rescue, and works with Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies monitoring research plots across Colorado. With a humble obsession for snow he is most often focused on the frozen world, but sometimes his mind wanders to the sweltering heat, delicious olives, and flamenco music of Southern Spain.
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