This October, practitioners and researchers in the snow and avalanche field will converge in Telluride for the 15th biennial International Snow Science Workshop to explore the San Juans' avalanche terrain, share research and discuss theories.
The symposium, Oct. 1-6, will bring 700 attendees representing 16 different countries to Telluride and Mountain Village the largest conference the community has ever hosted. Local snow and avalanche authorities Craig Sterbenz and Nicole Greene are organizing the five-day meeting of the minds.
"Telluride has always symbolized a place where people can come together and share information," Greene says. "With such a unique climate and rich avalanche history, Telluride makes the perfect environment for that kind of dynamic exchange among practitioners and researchers in the snow and avalanche field."
The premise of the ISSW, described as "Merging Theory and Practice," is to offer a forum in which avalanche industry experts from around the world can gather to discuss theories, present papers, examine case studies, and explore innovative new research topics.
Sterbenz, who heads the Telluride Ski Patrol's Snow Safety Department, is the 2006 ISSW Conference Chair. "The idea behind the conference is that it gives those who are regularly out in the field and working in snow like ski patrollers, mountain guides and highway workers the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with the people who are on the industry's cutting edge of research and technology," he explains.
Snow and avalanche industry representatives from such faraway locales as Austria, Japan, India, Russia, Norway, Iceland, Germany, Turkey, Namibia, Italy, France, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, and Switzerland will meet other industry leaders from around the U.S. during the conference, which will be held primarily in the Telluride Conference Center in Mountain Village. Due to the massive size of the event, many of the discussions and presentations will be simulcast to Big Billie's Ballroom, also in Mountain Village.
"This is the forum for practitioners and scientists to connect," Sterbenz says. "As far as the scope and depth that this conference goes, there is really nothing else in its place in all of the snow and avalanche industry."
Telluride was chosen as an appropriate location to host the biennial meeting for multiple reasons. The area's unique microclimate, which is shaped by dry desert air, low latitude, high altitude, steep alpine terrain and moderate snowfall, makes it exceptionally prone to avalanche activity. Consequentially, the San Juans boast a rich history in snow and avalanche research.
With the 1970s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research/San Juan Project, Silverton became the site of what many avalanche experts agree was the "birth" of modern avalanche forecasting and study. Much of contemporary snow and avalanche data is based on research conducted in the Red Mountain Pass area for the INSTAAR project by Ed LaChapelle, Richard Armstrong and others. Both LaChapelle and Armstrong will take the stage at the upcoming ISSW, alongside a long list of other avalanche experts from far and wide. The 2006 ISSW Papers Chair Andy Gleason, longtime forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, received nearly 200 submissions for presentations for this year's ISSW.
Explains Gleason of conference speakers and presenters: "We have Ph.D. scientists from the most advanced labs alongside ski patrollers and even high school students. The conference covers everything from the very scientific, like the dynamics of snowpack and fracture mechanics, to other aspects of the field like decision-making and reviewing case histories."
The conference schedule will include discussions about global warming and its effect on avalanches; the history of San Juan avalanches and the INSTAAR Project; highway avalanche mitigation on Red Mountain Pass (one of the most active avalanche areas in the country); and even a session about Dust on Snow, which will review the wind event last winter that virtually covered the state of Colorado in a layer of dust.
Local writer Nick DiGiacomo will present a paper covering ideas presented in a book he is writing about decision-making, a topic that was spurred from his participation in a Telluride Avalanche School course a few years ago.
Field sessions are also an important aspect of the ISSW schedule. Attendees will have the opportunity to explore the high reaches of the Telluride Ski Area to discuss the resort's avalanche control procedures and ski area expansion process; survey the Ophir area, where heavy avalanche activity during the winter of 2005 imperiled homes and disrupted a major power transmission line; discuss local mining and avalanche history with local historians in the Pandora Mill and Bridal Veil Falls area; and travel to Red Mountain Pass and Silverton Ski Area to investigate specific avalanche issues related to those areas.
Leaders for field sessions include local avalanche authorities and historians Senior Mahoney, Johnnie Stevens, Art Mears, Pat Ahern, Denny Hogan, and members of the Telluride Ski Patrol's Snow Safety Team.
For the first time in ISSW history, the 2006 event will host a Ladies Night on Monday, Oct. 2, co-sponsored by Babes in the Backcountry.
"The snow and avalanche field has predominately been male-dominated," Greene explains. "The thought behind the Ladies Night was to try to create more opportunities for women in the field to network and find support."
The event will offer a special tribute to Sue Ferguson, a pioneer in the avalanche research industry who recently passed away.
While the bulk of the ISSW is geared for snow science and avalanche professionals, the conference schedule does include some opportunities for the general public. The ISSW will host a movie night on Tuesday, Oct. 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Palm Theatre. Local ski patroller Jeff Campbell has organized the event, which will showcase clips, stories and personalities that bring together avalanche footage along with the history of mining in the San Juans.
The ISSW conference is sponsored by Marmot, Patagonia, Arc'Teryx, Pieps, Telluride Ski Patrol, San Juan Field School, Mountain Village Owners Association, Telluride Commission for Community Assistance, Arts and Special Events, Telluride Foundation, and Telluride Ski and Golf. For more information, visit the 2006 ISSW Telluride website at www.issw.net.