The Fifth Annual WYSAW Ramps Up For Winter on Oct 25-26

With the season’s first significant snowfall blanketing the Northern Rockies, skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers are gearing up for winter. But getting ready for ski season is about more than just waxing the boards and buying new boots. It’s about being in the proper mindset to make good decisions in the mountains.

For the last five years, that’s been the guiding principle behind the Wyoming Snow and Avalanche Workshop. The Fifth Annual WYSAW seeks to enlighten and build awareness about backcountry safety in a relaxed, accessible atmosphere. 

Organized by the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation, WYSAW includes two events: 

  • Pro Industry Workshop, catering to professionals in the field, from 12:30-4:30 p.m. on Friday, October 25 (more info below)

  • The main event, intended for all audiences, from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 26. 

Both events will be held at the Center for the Arts in downtown Jackson, Wyo. Tickets are $40 and good for both days, and include free lunch, goody bag, and an after-party with beer and raffle prizes. Students under the age of 18 get in for free, but still must register.

At the show, Exum Mountain Guides and Arc’teryx will be hosting the annual "Exum locals" early registration for the Arc'teryx Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Academy. This is the first chance anyone has to register for the Jackson Hole Academy clinics. This is your chance you improve your craft of backcountry skiing or ski mountaineering. Everyone who registers for the Academy at WYSAW will have their name put into a raffle for a new Proton LT Hoody. Global registration will start November 10th.

The Wyoming Snow and Avalanche Workshop draws hundreds of backcountry enthusiasts from the entire region. This year’s event features more than a dozen speakers from across North America who lead the way in snow science, avalanche safety, and behavioral studies across all winter disciplines. With each speaker balancing a mix of advanced theory, audience interaction, and humor, WYSAW engages attendees on global and local issues alike. Check out all the speakers here.

Highlights include:

Teton Pass Panel

As the Wyoming Department of Transportation threatens to curtail skier access on Teton Pass, a panel of stakeholders representing skiers and snowboarders, the Teton County Sheriff’s Office, and WYDOT will address how to maintain such access while ensuring commuter safety on the busy thoroughfare.

Colorado’s Historic Avalanche Cycle

Jamie Yount, who spent 15 years in Jackson as an Avalanche Technician for the Wyoming Department of Transportation, is now the Winter Operations Program Manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation. His presentation goes deep into the historic avalanche cycle that wreaked havoc across Colorado last winter, when 500 avalanches reached the highways and caused 3,000 hours of road closures. 

Avalanche Safety for Snowmobilers

Jeff Hambelton, a longtime avalanche educator, is the Snowmobile Coordinator for the Northwest Avalanche Center based in the snow globe of Mount Baker, Wash. With snowmobilers leading the way for avalanche fatalities in Wyoming, Hambelton will deliver a presentation on how snowmachiners can mitigate this grim statistic.

Understanding the Avalanche Forecast

Anne St. Clair, the public avalanche forecaster for Avalanche Canada in Revelstoke, British Columbia, presents findings about how people use, understand, and apply information from an avalanche forecast. She will highlight opportunities for making avalanche bulletins more accessible and more targeted to different user groups.

Cultivating Backcountry Expertise

Laura Maguire, a PhD student in Cognitive Systems Engineering at Ohio State University, builds on the theory of human factors. Using case study examples from both professional and recreational settings, this talk aims to reframe how we think about risk.

How Climate Change is Influencing Avalanches and Forecasting

McKenzie Skiles, an assistant professor of Geography at the University of Utah, where she co-directs the Snow and Ice Laboratory, looks at changes in mountain snowpack and its implications for avalanche dynamics.

Scott Savage, Director of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center in Ketchum, Idaho, will discuss how rain and snow storm events are affecting avalanche forecasting in inland mountain ranges. Widespread avalanching involving faceted layers during mixed rain-snow events is rarely observed and is not as well-understood. In March 2018, the U.S. Forest Service Sawtooth Avalanche Center staff observed this scenario. This talk highlights what SAC observed and offers ideas on how to think about these complex scenarios.

After The Rescue, Post Traumatic Stress in Avalanche Rescue

Dave Richards, Director of the Alta Ski Area Avalanche Office and ski patroller for the last 19 years, speaks to how post traumatic stress disorder affects first-responders. The talk will not provide scientific solutions to the problem of mental trauma in the professional rescuer with the exception of one: We begin the process of talking about our traumas, the proven first step in healing.

Pro Industry Workshop

WYSAW Professional’s Workshop is scheduled for Friday, October 25, from 12:30-4:30 p.m. at the Center for the Arts, in Jackson, Wyoming. Registration is $30, and gets you in for both the Pro Workshop, as well as the Rec event on Saturday, October 26, also at the Center. The Pro Workshop is intended for those who work in the field of snow safety, or are pursuing professional-level avalanche training. Below is the schedule for the Pro Workshop.

Laura Maguire 12:35-1:20 pm

“Operating at the Edge: Supporting Adaptive Expert Performance in the Mountains” 

Using case study examples, this talk will use the findings of research conducted with an avalanche control team at a sub-alpine coastal ski resort and draw from over 40 years of research into work in high risk, high consequence environments to reframe how we think about human error and human performance. 

Maguire is a PhD candidate with the Cognitive Systems Engineering Lab at the Ohio State University. She is working with an emphasis on coping with complexity in high risk industries, resilience engineering, cognition in mountain safety roles, and coordination across distributed networks. 

Seth Carbonari 1:20-2:05 pm

“Choosing and Managing a Team in High Risk Environments: Strategies for Choosing/Hiring/Recruiting a Team for Complex, Dynamic, High Risk Environments”

This talk will share tools for managing teams that Carbonari has amassed from his career in the world of wildland fire. Carbonari’s presentation will consist of a combination of presentation and audience interaction. 

Carbonari is currently a USFS District Ranger with the West Fork Ranger District, Bitterroot National Forest, out of Darby, Montana. He fell into wildland firefighting while going to college and currently has worked in the industry for over 25 years. Additionally, Carbonari spent 15 years working with the Flathead Avalanche Center as a forecaster and educator. He is fascinated by the similarities between wildland fires and avalanches, and the challenges of managing people within both of these environments. 

Laura McGladrey 2:15-3:00

“Stress Injuries and Innovations in Mountain Rescue”

Avalanche rescues expose people to emotionally difficult events. There is growing recognition of the impact of traumatic stress on the rescuer and his or her family. This presentation will highlight the national conversation, nomenclature, understanding of stress formation. McGladrey works with mountain rescue teams, ski patrols, and outdoor organizations supporting critical incident, near misses, and Psychological First Aid. She is a nurse practitioner in the Emergency Department at the University of Colorado and Stress Trauma and Adversity Research and Treatment Center. Additionally, she is a member of Portland Mountain Rescue, Monarch Ski Patrol, Eldora Ski Patrol, and NOLS Wilderness Medicine. 

Leo Lloyd 3:00-3:45 

“Rescuing the Rescuer: Anatomy of an Ice Climbing Accident”

An informative case study exploring a human factor trajectory in decision making that led up to an ice climbing accident. Lessons learned in the subsequent rescue will also be discussed. 

Lloyd is a Captain with Durango Fire & Rescue (Durango, Colorado) and coordinates the department's Technical Response Team. With over 35 years of pre-hospital medical/rescue experience, Lloyd is active with La Plata County Search & Rescue, Silverton EMS, and Mountain Rescue in Silverton. Additionally, he works as an educator for AIARE and Rigging for Rescue. 

Don Sharaf 3:45-4:30

Panel Discussion: Avalanche Forecasters From Across the Industry

This panel will host a discussion on the different approaches various avalanche forecasters take across the industry. Representatives from ski patrol, guiding, transportation, and public forecasting operations will discuss their take on what types of risks they are mitigating and how they gage success. 

Participants will include Dave Richards, Director of the Alta Ski Area Avalanche Program, Nat Patridge, President and Lead Guide at Exum, Jamie Yount and John Fitzgerald of CDOT and WYDOT, respectively, and Scott Savage of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center. 

Don Sharaf of the American Avalanche Institute will moderate. He has spent over 30 years backcountry skiing and riding all over the US and Canada. In addition to a long career teaching avalanche and mountaineering courses, Sharaf has been a heli-ski guide and avalanche forecaster in Alaska. He acknowledges that he has been around enough time to pay attention, to learn a few lessons, and to see the value of remaining humble in the face of the dragon.