In 1962, the Silverton Avalanche School was established through the San Juan County Sherrif's Office. SAS is a non-profit organization located in the rugged San Juan Mountains. For the past 60 years, SAS 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 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 took his first avalanche course in 1989. He has been an A3 Avalanche Professional Member since 2010. He has a life long passion for mountaineering and backcountry skiing and mountain rescue. 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. He has been featured in Powder Magazine, "The Human Factor 2.0" for his avalanche rescue work.
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
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.
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.
Lead Instructor (Pro)
Pro Programs Director
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 2002 and has spent the last 20 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 leader 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 CAA Pro Level 2 standard and has attended the CAA Pro 3 seminar under Bruce Jamieson. 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 Blue River, CO home.
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.
Howdy has a warm hearted love for wild landscapes and sharing good times with others.
For the last two and a half decades, he has made a full time livelihood as a guide, avalanche practitioner and educator. Through the patience of mentors, along with plenty of failure and success, he has garnered invaluable experience across a broad spectrum;
Avalanche mitigation & forecasting, NREMT medical rescue, RFR trained high angle rescue, guide, mentor, trainer and operations manager. His 24+ years of professional field experience include over 1,400 operational days guiding and 1,900 operational days as an avalanche worker. Ryan holds certifications as an EMT, Rigging for Rescue and PRO-2 Avalanche Operations.
When he’s not teaching for SAS, Ryan spends his time on a small family farm, with his love Galena, trying to raise two wild children on home grown food and quality adventure. He runs a four season, local guide service as Operations Manager and Co-Owner at Telluride Mountain Guides. Howdy fills out the calendar as a heli-ski guide for Stellar Adventure Travel, avalanche worker at Telluride Ski Patrol and Grand Canyon dory boatman at OARS.
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 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.
Tragically, we lost Leo in the summer of 2022. The devastation felt by our Silverton Avalanche School family is enormous. He was a leader, a mentor, and a dear friend. He was a lodestar for the rescue community in the United States and we miss him terribly. Below are the words Leo chose to use as his introduction to all of you:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 (Rec, ProAvSAR)
Liz is a full time paramedic with Silverton Medical Rescue. Liz has worked with the Silverton Avalanche School in some capacity for 7 years with a strong presence in the recreation curriculum. Prior to teaching Liz patrolled at Telluride for a few seasons. Having an in-depth rescue based background, Liz will be involved in teaching our Pro AvSAR curriculum this season. When not teaching or responding to 911 calls, you can find Liz out on the slopes utilizing in-bound skiers as GS gates or moving slow and steady on the skin track.
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 (“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 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.
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.
Intern & Resident Cool Kid
Colton grew up just outside of Denver and fell in love with snow at an early age when he was strapped to skis at the tender age of 1. Colton has worked as a Young Adult Patroller at Copper Mountain and as a Lift Operator in Steamboat Springs. In 2019 he began his professional career in avalanche education when he moved to the center of the snow and avalanche universe, Silverton Colorado. Colton was the intern at Silverton Avalanche School for the 2019/2020 season, the safety officer for the 2021/2022 season, and is currently a recreational instructor. He is also a volunteer EMT with Silverton Medical Rescue and a member of San Juan County Search and Rescue as well as training for his AMGA Ski Guide Certification.
Instructor (Rec & Pro)
Chris was born in Denver, CO and spent his childhood in Corrales, NM, where he enjoyed spending time outdoors and playing music. After a pivotal experience as an Outward Bound student, he attended Western State Colorado University, and studied geology. After graduating, he moved up-valley to Crested Butte and focused on guiding, skiing, and snow science. While living in Crested Butte, he got his EMT certification, worked part time for the ski patrol, taught avalanche courses, was an assistant avalanche forecaster, and guided for a cat-ski operation. He also worked for Outward Bound (15 years in total) and eventually became the Southwest Program Director of the Colorado Outward Bound School. During this time, he guided all over the country, including in Washington State, Denali, and the San Juan Mountains. He then pursued a graduate degree at Northern Arizona University in Geology, focusing on modern and past climate change in the Alaskan Arctic by reconstructing glacier activity through lake sediments and moraines. He now works part time for the USGS in Moab, UT focusing on soil-geomorphology.
Maddie was born and raised on Hastings Mesa, just outside Telluride, Colorado. Growing up with the San Juans in her backyard she has always had a work hard, play hard mentality. Her parents strapped a pair of skis on her feet at the the age of 2 and there was no looking back. While she raced competitively in high school, she switched her focus to big mountain and backcountry skiing when she moved British Columbia to attend university. After graduating from the University of British Columbia, Maddie spent three summers working as a field biologist on Vancouver Island. She returned to Colorado in 2017 and decided to call Telluride her home base again. She now spends the summers working as a mountain guide on Mt. Shasta in northern California and as well as on Denali in Alaska. In the winters Maddie guides locally as a cat-skiing guide for the Cimarron Mountain Club and in the backcountry for Mountain Trip. Maddie holds her Canadian Avalanche Association Level 1 and 2 Operational Avalanche certification, Wilderness First Responder and is currently an AMGA Apprentice Ski, Alpine, and Rock guide. She is a member of the Salomon Ambassador Team and is stoked to join the Silverton Avalanche School team this upcoming winter!
Andrew Plagens has 9 years of mountain guiding experience. He is an AMGA certified rock guide and has completed his Advanced Ski Guide course/ aspirant exam, Alpine course, Ice instructor course, and Professional Level 2 avalanche course. He recently moved to Silverton to work for SAS after working in Ouray for San Juan Mountain Guides in Ouray as a rock, alpine, ski, splitboard, and ice guide. He spends his summer in Jackson Wyoming working at Exum Mountain Guides as an alpine and rock guide. He has experience with a wide range of abilities and interests, from leading tactical military trainings to working with adaptive athletes.