2018 SPEAKERS schedule. Check back again for complete bios and presentation details

John Sykes


John got his start as an avalanche professional guiding for Alaska Mountaineering School and teaching for Alaska Avalanche School. After several years working in the field and exploring Alaska's remote mountain ranges in his free time John moved to Bozeman, MT to pursue a masters degree in Earth Science at Montana State University.  Working under Jordy Hendrikx, his research focused on decision-making and terrain selection of lift access backcountry skiers.  He is interested in anything involving snow, ice, and mountain geography and is looking forward to pursuing a PhD with the Simon Fraser University Avalanche Research Program starting in January 2019.

Topic of Presentation

Using GPS Tracking and Psychographic Surveys to Analyze Decision-Making of Lift Access Backcountry Skiers on Saddle Peak, Bridger Mountains, MT

Are sidecountry skiers sketchier than backcountry skiers? Does avalanche education, experience, or knowledge of the terrain actually help us make safe decisions?  Our research provides a case study of lift access backcountry skiers at Bridger Bowl Ski Area to help answer these questions and highlight specific populations at the highest risk in the backcountry.

Evelyn Lees


Evelyn Lees started as an avalanche forecaster with the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center in 1991, and is never bored in this fast changing profession.  Her previous work includes 4 winters as a meteorology field technician for cloud seeding projects in Utah and 30 years of mountain guiding. The kids she used to chase around now break trail for her.

Topic of Presentations

Are You Alone? And Uphill Fatalities...A look at how we travel with our partners in the backcountry and uphill touring fatalities.

Examining 8 years of avalanche fatalities opened our eyes to all the times we are “effectively alone” in the backcountry, even when we’re with others. Making conscious choices on how we travel alone or with others is a fundamental “safe-travel” concept, whether you are going uphill or down.

Dave Hamre



Dave Hamre has been a frontline forecaster for different avalanche programs, including a stint in the 70’s as the Snow Safety Director at Alta, Utah followed by work as the Snow Safety Director at Alyeska Resort in the 80’s. Since then he has been the Avalanche Program Director at the Alaska Railroad. During that time he has worked extensively on a wide variety of avalanche consulting projects throughout North America and New Zealand as well as accomplishing original research into avalanche behavior. He has authored over 40 avalanche-related papers and plans, including the design of numerous major avalanche risk mitigation programs. In addition to his background in avalanches, he also has extensive experience in mountain construction project management including multiple large aerial cableways, notably the Big Sky Tramway as well as hazardous material cleanups, a large railroad/highway tunnel project, and the construction of a 24 station Air Combat Maneuvering System.

Topic of Presentation

Relating the Avalanche Hazard Index (AHI) to backcountry risk assessment

Dave will describe from a programmatic basis how we use the AHI to drive risk mitigation objectives, and then bring that back to the individual level.

Caleb Merrill


Caleb cut his teeth in the snow and avalanche world while ski patrolling at Solitude Mountain Resort in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.  For him, there was a sense of wonder, exhilaration, and respect that accompanied the experience of triggering avalanches with explosives along the ridgelines of the ski area.  Caleb traded in the cross of a patrol coat for rotors of a helicopter when he started working for Ruby Mountain Helicopter Experience.   He enjoys the intricacies of working with the fickle nature of northeast Nevada’s faceted snowpack.  Caleb also enjoys teaching avalanche courses as an AIARE instructor, and this will be the third season that he will be producing The Avalanche Hour Podcast.  Caleb is progressing through the AMGA ski guide program and is also working to develop an alpine guiding career in the Pacific Northwest.   Caleb, along with his wife Stephani and their dog Arlo, live in Southern Oregon and enjoy riding their mountain bikes and motorcycles when the snow isn’t flying.  

Topic of Presentation

Talking it out: A community-based approach to learning from our mistakes

It is part of human nature to be embarrassed after making a mistake, being in an accident, or being involved in a near miss.  Through the under-reporting of non-fatal avalanche events, our community misses important learning opportunities.  This presentation will explore some of the reasons why individuals may be reluctant to report avalanche events that could be seen as “near misses”.  The debriefing and sharing process following these events is important not only for the individual, but for the greater avalanche community.  Podcasts such as The Avalanche Hour provide a forum for sharing and discussing avalanche events so that the individual(s) involved- and the greater community can learn from these accidents or near misses.  This presentation will explore how a forum of this type can help break down the cloud of shame that can often times be accompanied with owning a mistake.  It will also involve a compilation of lessons learned from avalanche professionals and recreationists within our community. 

Dr. Sara Boilen


Dr. Sara Boilen is the owner and chief clinical psychologist at Sweetgrass Psychological Services in Whitefish, MT. She obtained her doctoral degree from the University of Denver where she researched the positive impacts of rock climbing on the female psyche. She’s deeply passionate about breaking down barriers between the psychological community and the rest of the world in the spirit of making us all a little bit more aware, healthier, and safer. She enjoys sharing homemade treats with friends on top of mountains.

Topic of Presentation

Trends, Traps and Tricks: Managing Risk in Avalanche Country

Starting things off light, Sara will contextualize the conversation about risk and heuristics by providing  a summary of recent trends in avalanche fatalities. She will then apply psychological and economic theories to enrich our understanding as to why we behave predictably irrationally in the backcountry. After the audience is sufficiently demoralized regarding their ability to make good choices on skis, sleds, and snowboards, Sara will offer up a smattering of strategies as best practices for mitigating the risk that the human brings to avalanche country.