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. Our Pro Program partners with the best in the industry.
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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 recreational and professional avalanche education 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.
SAS adheres 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.
Jim is the Executive 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 teaches all levels of avalanche education. 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 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 SPRAT and NFPA certifications. 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. Pro Member A3. Serves on committees for A3 and ICAR.
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.
Tactical Programs, Instructor
Administration & Logistics Manager
A recent graduate from Fort Lewis College’s Adventure Education program, Ri comes from a background of outdoor education instruction and facilitation. She has worked as a Ski Patroller and Ski and Snowboard Instructor for Purgatory, and Environmental Science facilitator for Durango Nature Studies’ snow shoe and weather progams. She’s a strong advocate for equity and inclusivity in the outdoors, and was the Vice President of Keeping Women Wild while attending college. In the off season she coaches Mountain Biking for Every Pedal in Durango and runs her photography business. She has a love for snow, community, learning, and exploring all things mountain and desert.
Ri moved to Colorado in 2013 after graduating high school in Texas. Being a winter baby born in the south provided very few opportunities to play in the snow, and as soon as the opportunity came to hoof it to the mountains she headed out to Durango where she learned to snowboard and cross country ski. As she fell into crowds big on backcountry skiing, she realized she was going to need to carry her own if she was going to head into the backcountry with her friends, and in 2018, she was a recepient of the Know the Snow fund scholarship and began her avalanche education process. After her level 1, she realized the backcountry and snow science held a massive part of her heart and has since recieved her Level 2, taken a Snow Science course at Fort Lewis, and is currently training to take her Pro 1.
Ri is one of many people in the US who faced financial barriers to college and the outdoors. Years of hardwork have gone into getting her to where she is today, and the outdoors have become a cornerstone of her life. Avalanche Education in particular has empowered her in ways she didn’t know she needed or was lacking, and she wants nothing more than to extend that opportunity for growth and self-reflection to others who come from similar backgrounds as her.
Instructor, Recreation, Outreach
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.
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.
Pro Program Lead Instructor
Elizabeth is a Full-Time Paramedic with Silverton EMS and a Mountain bike guide based in Moab, Utah for Western Spirit. She had guided trips in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Oregon, California and Washington, and Canada. She teaches Avy education all over the state of Colorado and has spent 5 winters in Silverton teaching, working in EMS, and skiing. She has worked for Telluride Ski Patrol for two years.
Elizabeth’s favorite part about the skiing community is that she’s a butt girl. Skier butts are her favorite.
Elizabeth says she teaches selfishly because it keeps her fresh, but that she also loves teaching because it hasn’t been long since she was in her first avalanche class. There is a process to it all and she hopes that in sharing it, it’ll keep folks from making similar mistakes.
Elizabeth loves to ski and learned to love avalanche education secondary to that passion.
Ryan Howe (Howdy)
patroller and educator. Epic failure, success and the patience of mentors have allowed me to build a
solid foundation of operational experience and a desire to give back to the trade.
Avalanche education provides a unique opportunity to partner mentors with students and trade
professionals at different stages in their trajectory. I really value the chance to give back as an educator
and mentor while learning from students and the experience at large.
These days I make a living as an operations manager at Telluride Mountain Guides
(telluridemountainguiding.com), an avalanche worker at Telluride Ski Patrol and a faculty member at
Silverton Avalanche School teaching Pro-1 and Pro-2 curriculum.
He seeks to share this joy by offering tools that help enhance accessibility, improve decision
making, and ultimately empower more fun and future learning.
From learning to walk and ski simultaneously, skiing has been a guiding force for Aaron
throughout his life. He began ski instructing in high school on the small hills of MA, later moving west to earn a BA in hydrology and atmospheric science from the University of Colorado. Following graduation, his technical training accelerated during a four-year stint of climbing and skiing in the Tetons. He learned how to tie together the technical side with critical interpersonal and communication skills while working with students in outdoor education. As a guide and instructor, Aaron has led expeditions throughout the Four-Corner region and Alaska.
farm-to-table restaurant. As a snow-pro, Aaron takes a versatile approach, simultaneously
working as a professional ski patroller for Ski Santa Fe, a field technician for the NASA SnowEx campaign, a field observer for the Taos Avalanche Center, and now a
He holds a Pro-1 certification, and is a NREMT-B and WFR.
I started out taking my passion for the mountains and realizing that I love to share that stoke with others. Most importantly I love to share my knowledge, every guest, client or student of mine has something to teach me and I hopefully have some mountain knowledge to share with them. It is a slow process, there is no magic bullet and it requires patience, humility and an open mind. The mountains don’t care how much you know, or how much experience you have, we need to be guests and tread lightly, soaking up every little lesson and piece of information that we can discern. I love that we get to approach life with humility and a learners mindset. We get to question, we get to predict, we get to teach and ultimately we get to learn.
I realized that I needed personal Avalanche Education on my first backcountry ski tour in college. I have grown up with skis on my feet, pretty much as soon as I took my first steps, my parents had me skiing between their legs. We took avalanche education courses in middle school and high school, however any time we were in avalanche terrain either a mentor or a ski patroller was doing all the route finding, decision making or mitigation work. Stepping beyond those experiences, and realizing that I was in control of my own destiny forced me to re-evaluate and take a step back. There was a lot to learn and I really didn’t like relying solely on others to help me make decisions in the backcountry.
Watching and helping others learn and succeed in something they are passionate about drives me. Whether that’s coaching high school climbing or teaching avalanche education, I hope that through teaching, my students will walk away with a new midnset and a lens through which they view the world. I try to inspire critical thinking and encourage everyone to love what they do but not take it for granted. Snow is an incredible yet complex medium. Avalanche education is a multifaceted program requiring analysis of human psychology, decision making our natural world and the unparalleled stoke of skiing powder. It’s complex and thought provoking… Plus its freaking rad!
I love sharing long days in the mountains with new and old friends alike. I’m either out skiing, climbing, working as an ecologist or hanging at home reading and cooking up some new and hopefully delicious meal. See ya out in the mountains! Share the stoke and stay safe out there
Instructor Pro Porgams
I work as a guide and in the snow safety department at Park City Powder Cats in Utah, as well
as at Majestic Heli Ski in Alaska, where I am the Snow Safety Director. I am also on the roster
at Inspired Summit Adventures in Utah and have been a guide at Ski Arpa in Chile. Previously, I
spent 16 years as a Ski Patroller and ended up in the Snow Safety Department at Park City.
I learned my profession by keeping my mouth closed and ears open at work, while
diligently scrutinizing who I was listening to and pursuing every educational opportunity
possible. My favorite part of my profession is that the is no finish line for learning, knowledge and
I didn’t so much realize I needed personal avalanche education as I was told I was
getting it… My journey in avalanche education began as a rookie patroller at a mountain with an
active avalanche mitigation program. I didn’t so much REALIZE that I needed personal
avalanche training as I was TOLD i was getting it. Avalanches became my profession then, and
remain to this day.
I am motivated to teach avalanche classes because I believe it is my responsibility as a
professional to give back to the community that has given so much to me. Other people put
energy into my growth as a professional, and I owe it to others to pass that knowledge on to
Motorized Programs Leader
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.
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.
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, 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.
Pro Program Lead Instructor
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.
Intern & Resident Cool Kid
Colton was born just outside of Denver and started skiing when he was 1. He is a former Young Adult Patroller at Copper Mountain, Lift Operator at Steamboat Springs, and lifetime student of the mountains. As an intern, much of his education is just beginning at SAS – and he’s STOKED.
Colton realized he needed avalanche training as he began to tire of resort riding. He recognized a massive amount of opportunity in the backcountry, but in order to continue riding sick lines he knows he has to learn to not die.
Colton wants to be able to share the experiences he has had in the backcountry, and learn how to become a steward to the land which demands respect. He is motivated by the incredible community surrounding Silverton and the backcountry, and he is excited to be part of it!
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.
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