Michael Ackerman and Josh Jespersen of Silverton Avalanche School
There’s a reason Silverton Avalanche School Deputy Director Michael Ackerman has been called a celebrated story teller. We could also add to his qualifications connoisseur of metaphors. He uses both story and metaphor liberally in the latest Totally Deep podcast, where he’s joined by host Doug Stenclik and Silverton Avalanche School Tactical Programmer and Instructor Josh Jespersen. Together, the trio dives deep into the murky waters of avalanche education.
Take this one from Ackerman: “If we try to break the backcountry down into a systemic checklist that equals go or no go, you’re playing a dangerous game. Mother nature is always going to bat last and she’s fond of hitting a walk off in the 9th inning when you think you have it all locked up. That’s when we see accidents happen.”
If you find banter about logistics boring, you won’t in this episode. If you think the acronym AIARE is synonymous with all avalanche education, this episode will gently correct you. If you’ve signed up for an avalanche course thinking that the instructors and curriculum will give you all the answers, this episode will make you think otherwise. It is, for all intents and purposes, likely the most interesting and informative discussion on avalanche education you’ll ever encounter.
This is thanks in part to the plentiful metaphors, but also the deep well of knowledge behind the microphones. Ackerman has been working as a guide and outdoor educator the in mountain west for the past two decades. Jespersen is a former Navy SEAL who in 2017 snowboarded all of Colorado’s Fourteeners in less than five months and also works as a guide and outdoor educator. They are both deeply involved in Silverton Avalanche School, which has been running backcountry education courses since 1962. Operating out of the ‘natural avalanche laboratory’ of Silverton, CO, SAS offers a wide range of courses in the categories of recreational, professional and motorized avalanche education, from backcountry foundations and basic avalanche awareness to Professional Level 2 and Avalanche Search and Rescue.
Throughout the episode, the guys cover topics including the shortcomings of avalanche education, how to reach the new class of COVID-inspired backcountry users (“selling them gear is like selling them a firearm. Now we need some firearm safety”), and why avy training on or near your home turf is especially valuable. Have a listen, and stay safe out there.
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Manasseh Franklin is a writer, editor and big fan of walking uphill. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction and environment and natural resources from the University of Wyoming and especially enjoys writing about glaciers. Find her other work in Alpinist, Adventure Journal, Rock and Ice, Aspen Sojourner, AFAR, Trail Runner and Western Confluence.