About Us

Meet the humans at Silverton Avalanche School

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.

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 and continues to work with the industry to create standards and promote innovate avalanche training and risk management techniques.

Our courses are taught by internationally recognized members of the American Avalanche Association (A3) and the Canadian Avalanche Association.

Our instructors bring a wealth of professional experience and a passion for education. Backgrounds 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 practice and theory to the the table.

Jim Donovan

Executive Director

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. 

Michael Ackerman

Deputy Director

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.

Josh Jespersen

Tactical Programs, Instructor

Josh has been working as a guide, educator, and outdoor facilitator since he separated from the military in 2011. This work has taken him to the wild places and great ranges all over our country. Moving through the mountains is something he learned as the pointman and lead climber for his unit in the SEAL teams. It was his job to get everyone through austere environments safely. He loves carrying that role forward, and allowing people to see the mountains in a new way. He grew up a ski bum, and after fighting in two wars all he wanted to do was get back to that feeling of going fast, embracing gravity, and falling down a mountain with his own expression. When he started pursuing that need, he quickly realized that he was going to push himself deep into the mountains and naturally interface with slopes that wanted to kill him. Focused on the goal of “always coming back,” it was imperative he learned to travel safely in those environments and now he aims to share that knowledge with others so that they too can keep coming back for more adventures. 

Carly Bonwell

Administration & Logistics, Avalanche Technician

A native of Santa Fe, NM, Carly grew up running around the vast south-western landscape and following around her ski-patroller Aunts around the mountain. As soon as she was old enough, she volunteered for the Santa Fe Adaptive Ski Program for four years. Pursuing her love for the outdoors and the South-West, she went to Colorado College and earned a B.A. in Environmental Science. Since moving to Silverton, Carly became an active member of San Juan County Search & Rescue and is an EMT with Silverton Medical Rescue. When not working as a spreadsheet maestro and registration dilettante for SAS, Carly spends her time nerding out about snow as a Pro-1 certified Avalanche Technician. In the summer she chases the melting snow as a hydrology research assistant at Mountain Studies Institute.

Karin Pocock

Instructor (Pro)

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 loves teaching custom courses designed around both the backcountry skiing and avalanche education needs of her guests. She is currently trained by the 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.

Angela Hawse

Lead Instructor (Pro)

Angela is an IFMGA mountain guide and the president of the board of the AMGA, with three decades working full-time in alpine, rock and ski terrain. She works as a lead guide for many operations domestically and internationally. She is a SAS pro instructor and has worked as an avalanche forecaster for heli-ski and mining operations, ski patrolled and was college faculty. Angela is a brand ambassador, snow geek and climate advocate. Angela has guided, taught, and explored from the Antarctic Peninsular to the South Summit of Mt. Everest and many remarkable places on our planet in between, but she has also spent 28 winter seasons in the San Juan Mountains. Formally, Angela has BA’s and an MA from Prescott College, is guide certified through the AMGA, and has taken avalanche courses since 1984 from a Level 1 to 3, including the 14-day CAA Pro Industry Level 2 training and assessment program. Angela realized she wanted to advance her avalanche education when she took her first avalanche course with Rod Newcomb and Don Bachman on Red Mountain Pass. They instilled respect and curiosity that laid the foundation for lifelong learning about snowpacks, terrain, avalanches, and safety. Angela loves engaging with other mountain professionals tasked with solving complex risk management problems in avalanche terrain. She has learned loads over three decades of backcountry skiing in the San Juans and thinks it’s an honor to share her knowledge and experience.

Ryan Howe (Howdy)

Instructor (Pro)

Over the last two decades, Ryan has worked as an avalanche professional, operations manager, guide, patroller and educator. Epic failure, success and the patience of mentors allowed him 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. Thus, he really values the chance to give back as an educator and mentor while learning from students and the experience at large.

Ryan works as an operations manager at Telluride Mountain Guides (telluridemountainguiding.com) and an avalanche worker at Telluride Ski Patrol in addition to being a faculty member at Silverton Avalanche School teaching Pro-1 and Pro-2 curriculum.

Fischer Hazen

Instructor (Rec)

Fischer was born, raised and has generally spent most of his life in the mountains, specifically over the hill in Telluride, Colorado. Fischer grew up with skis on his feet; pretty much as soon as he took his first steps, his parents had him skiing between their legs. As a young adult, he realized that he could not always rely on the knowledge of others, which forced him to re-evaluate and pursue his own education so that he was not relying solely on others to help him make decisions in the backcountry. In following his passion for the mountains, he realized that he loves to share that stoke with others. He also loves that while he gets to share his mountain knowledge, every client or student of his also has something to teach him. Fischer tries to inspire critical thinking and encourages everyone to love what they do but not take it for granted. Fischer has worked as a professional mountain guide for Mountain Trip for the past 6 years, guiding everything from rock climbing and trail running, to ice climbing, backcountry skiing, and high elevation peaks. These pursuits have taken him all around Colorado and the western US, up to Alaska and Denali and across the world to places like Argentina, Chile, Africa and China. 

Jimmy Tart

Instructor (Pro)

Jimmy works as a guide, is the Snow Safety Director at Majestic Heli Ski in Alaska, and in the Snow Safety Department at Park City Powder Cats in Utah. He is also on the roster at Inspired Summit Adventures in Utah. Previously, Jimmy spent 16 years as a Ski Patroller and was a guide at Ski Arpa in Chile. His journey in avalanche education began as a rookie patroller at a mountain with an active avalanche mitigation program. Avalanches became his profession then, and remain to this day. Jimmy learned his profession by keeping his mouth closed and ears open at work, while diligently scrutinizing who he was listening to and pursuing every educational opportunity possible. His favorite part of his profession is that there is no finish line to learning, knowledge and personal growth! Jimmy is motivated to teach avalanche classes because he believes it is his responsibility as a professional to give back to the community that has given so much to him. Other people put energy into his growth as a professional, and he feels he owes it to others to pass that knowledge on to them. 

Leo Lloyd

Instructor (Rec, Tactical, Wilderness medicine)

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 around the US including Alaska and Canada.

Amy Pertuz

Instructor (Rec, 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! 

Sandy Kobrock

Instructor (Rec, 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 was in 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.

Mike Duffy

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.

Jayson Simons-Jones

Lead Instructor (Pro)

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.

Chris Marshall

Instructor (Pro)

Chris Marshall fell in love with skiing during his sojourns to the icy forested slopes of New England’s mountains before his love for mountains and powder skiing drew him out West. Chris Marshall has been guiding and instructing in the mountains since 2006. He earned a BA in Wilderness Leadership and Geography in 2005 and a MA in Experiential Education in 2011 from Prescott College. He worked as an Associate Faculty member for Prescott College in the Adventure Education department from 2007-2013 instructing such classes as Wilderness Leadership, Avalanche Forecasting, Rock Climbing, Alpine Mountaineering, and Ski Mountaineering. Chris is a Certified AMGA/IFMGA Mountain Guide, the highest credential for mountain guiding in the world. He obtained his professional Level 3 Avalanche Certification from the American Avalanche Institute in 2011 and is a professional member of the American Avalanche Association. He has guided and instructed in the lower 48, Alaska, Canada, the Alps, and Antarctica. He also works as a ski guide and avalanche educator for Sun Valley Trekking during the winters.

Bill Allen

Instructor (Pro)

As the co-owner of Mountain Trip, based in Telluride, CO, Bill feels lucky to have been able to create a life out of pursuing the things that he loves to do for over 20 years now. Bill grew up playing in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, and eventually made it to Alaska where he found his first guiding job and realized that he could make a living out of it. Decades later, he has been to places that he never dreamed he would get a chance to go, climbed all the “7 Summits” twice, and stood on top of Mount Everest 3 times. He loves sharing those experiences with climbers from around the world. Although he spends most of his time in the San Juans now, Alaska is still in his blood as he has guided nearly 30 expeditions on Denali, and other peaks in Alaska. During the winter in the San Juans, he works as a ski guide for both the heli skiing and the backcountry ski touring programs whenever he manages to get out of the Mountain Trip office. 

Manuel Genswein

Avalanche Rescue Professional, Guest Instructor

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.

Chris Johnson

Instructor (Rec)

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.

Elizabeth Schwab

Instructor (Rec)

Elizabeth is a Full-Time Paramedic with Silverton EMS and a Mountain bike guide for Western Spirit, based in Moab, Utah. She teaches Avy education all over the state of Colorado and has spent 6 winters in Silverton teaching, working in EMS, and skiing. She also worked for Telluride Ski Patrol for two years. Former east coast ski racer (New Yorker), she loves skiing fast in bounds and skinning slow out of bounds. However, Elizabeth has a long, tumultuous relationship with the snow as she has lost more friends than most at her age due to snow burials here in the San Juans. She is an aggressive skier living in aggressive terrain, and knew in her early 20s that if she wanted to explore the tiniest fraction of it, she’d have to take the proper steps to do so. She took her level 1 with the Silverton avalanche school in 2013 and has continued to learn every winter since. This learning led her to teaching. Elizabeth says she teaches selfishly because it keeps her fresh and she can relate to student’s hunger to learn. There is a process to it all and she hopes that in sharing it, it’ll keep folks from making similar mistakes.

Aaron Rice

Instructor (Rec)

Aaron’s path to avalanche education is rooted in the joy of skiing, and his relationship with the mountains is one of lifelong learning. Since 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. As a guide and instructor, Aaron has led expeditions throughout the Four-Corner region and Alaska. Aaron now lives in northern New Mexico, where he balances his snow-filled winters by farming in the summers. 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 Rec-instructor for SAS. He holds a Pro-1 certification, and is a NREMT-B and WFR.

Jonathan Cooper

Instructor (Rec)

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 in 2019 brings a great mix of education and guiding experience to our team. 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 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.

Dustin Dyer

Instructor (Rec)

Dustin grew up in the hills of Evergreen, Colorado spending more time outside than in since the beginning. Skiing from age 3 and snowboarding since 14, snow has been the backdrop to most of his life. After a bear ate his car on a backpacking trip in 2003, he basically never came out of the mountains and has been following a diverse outdoor career path centered on maximum adventure ever since. He spent his 20s teaching rock climbing and trying to find the single best climb in the world. As the allure of living in a Subaru year-round faded, he has dived into being a full-time educator and businessman. Dustin has become a passionate avalanche educator and splitboard instructor. He has taught recreational courses for the past 5 seasons. Dustin is based out of Estes Park, CO and is a co-owner of Kent Mountain Adventure Center. He now brings his expertise to Southwest Colorado in the winter as he teaches recreational courses for SAS.

Jonathan Wilson

Instructor (Rec, Medical Rescue)

Jonathan is a practicing Paramedic with Silverton Ambulance, Durango Fire, and Purgatory Resort. He is a team leader for both San Juan and La Plata County Search and Rescue. Jonathan is an Avy Pro 1 and teaches avalanche rescue, Wilderness  First Responder, and technical rope rescue. He believes in a practical approach to rescue and medicine. He has been living and recreating in the San Juan’s since 2012. Skiing and snowboarding since his childhood in Michigan. He spent 20 years working at sea, but always escaping to the mountains.

Colton Frasier

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. As an intern, much of his education is just beginning at SAS – and he’s STOKED.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!

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114 East 12th Street
Silverton, CO 81433