Anchorage hosts snow scientists Sept. 16-21

by • September 13, 2012 • trailmixComments (0)926

Heightened awareness

International Snow Science Workshop presents the peak in avalanche technology

By Justin Matley

From September 16-21, Alaska will be hosting the biennial International Snow Science Workshop (ISSW). Said to be the only conference of its kind, ISSW gathers avalanche related professionals to share and discuss the latest in avalanche forecasting, safety and technology. Some 200-300 organizations and roughly 600 individuals are expected at the Dena’ina Center in downtown Anchorage for this year’s event. Presenters from New Zealand, Canada, Japan and many more countries will provide attendees with a broad look into their particular field of research and development.

“The conference defines the state of the art in the avalanche field,” says David Hamre, event chair and avalanche forecaster for Alaska Railroad. “All the latest research from a scientific and practitioner’s view point will be presented and digested by the core of avalanche professionals around the world. A lot of it becomes an accepted body of work, as it were, to define the state of the art.”

He urges the community to get in on the action to learn all they can, while they can.

“The fact that it’s coming to Anchorage is unique,” Hamre says. “This is a little out of the ordinary and the event only happens once every two years, so it most likely won’t be back in Anchorage for a very long time.”

“The intended audience is a wide range from novice to an avalanche professional,” says Matt Murphy, event co-chair and avalanche forecaster for Alaska DOT. “There’s something for everybody. There’s definitely a lot for the professional, but novices, people with little to no avalanche experience or education, I think will find a lot of good things with ISSW.”

Event organizers felt it only made sense to finally hold ISSW in Alaska. According to Murphy Alaska has the highest fatality rate due to avalanches, per capita, compared to any other state. ISSW’s choice to hold this year’s event in Anchorage was made possible by the overwhelmingly positive response from supporters.

“We have lots of support from unusual means because it’s Alaska, like Conoco Phillips, Alaska Pipeline Service Company, Chugach Electric – people that are not in the avalanche field that recognize the importance of this event to Alaska,” says Hamre.

Alaskan companies and private businesses affected by avalanches directly will also be attending. Hamre estimates 30 avalanche related organizations from Alaska to participate: guiding companies, heli ski companies, avalanche educators and avalanche forecasters. Some of them will present information and practices specifically developed in Alaska to include new snowmachining and heli ski practices.

ISSW offers a wide range of discussions and special days to fit with the interests of visitors and boost the fun factor.

“There’s always an emphasis on new information in the field from the scientific papers that are presented,” Hamre says. “That’s always sort of a big draw, but at every event you have a field day.”

Attendees may want to ride the train along Turnagain Arm to Spencer Glacier, take a bus tour along Seward Highway or investigate the Alyeska Resort avalanche program. These activities happen on Wednesday of the event and give visitors from around the world an impressive look at this region.

“One of the things about ISSW is it highlights sort of the mountain culture of the area where it’s being offered,” Murphy says. “So it’s sort of our, I guess job, to highlight the culture that we live in here in this part of Alaska.”

The guest speaker will provide an even deeper look into local culture. Alaskan Mathew Sturm will speak on behalf of Alaska Natives regarding their many words for snow and the differences. According to Hamre, Alaska’s version of ISSW will, for the first time, share with attendees how snow and avalanches have affected the native culture.

Other locally specific information should intrigue the snowmachining residents.

“The 2First has a really strong track on sledders with support from Alaska Mining and Diving and Bombardier,” says Hamre.

Snowmachiners will learn the latest regarding equipment, rescue and snow stability. “They can just come out for one day if they want to get the latest in avalanche education,” says Hamre.

For anyone who thinks avalanches are old news or there’s nothing more they can learn, ISSW will likely prove them wrong.

“There’re new technologies all the time being developed,” says Murphy.

His examples include avalanche protection systems that can be used for transport corridors such as devices that detect a slide via sound waves and trigger lights or gates to close a road automatically. There are new ways to measure meteorological events and new ways of mitigating avalanches with explosives or non-explosive alternatives.

From the tech to the science to sharing of experiences, visitors can expect to walk away with much more than they arrived with.

“This is a unique opportunity in terms of broadening your avalanche knowledge,” says Hamre. “This is much higher-level information than you’d get in a regular avalanche course. But, I don’t only think of it in those terms; it’s just a great gathering of mountain folks. And the possibilities for networking with people from around the world are limitless.”

More information and online registrations for ISSW can be found online,



Schedule of events


Sunday, Sept 16
8 a.m.-4 p.m. National Avalanche Center Meeting in Tubughnenq 5
8 a.m.-5 p.m. AAA Board Meeting in K’enakatnu Executive Board Room
8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. AIARE Meeting and Workshop in Kahtnu 1, second floor
9 a.m.-1 p.m. RA.M.MS Dynamic Modeling Workshop by SLF in Kahtnu 3
12 p.m.-4 p.m. Exhibitors setup, third floor
3 p.m.-7 p.m. Registration open, third floor
7 p.m.-9 p.m. Social hour, third floor


Monday, Sept 17
7:45 a.m.-8 a.m., Orientation
8 a.m.-8:20 a.m., Welcome Address by Jill Fredston
8:20 a.m.-9:40 a.m., First session
9:40 a.m.-10:10 a.m., Break
10:10 a.m.-11:30 a.m., Second session
11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Lunch
1 p.m.-2:20 p.m., Third session
2:20 p.m.-3:50 p.m., Posters and Break
3:50 p.m.-5:10 p.m., Fourth session
5:10-6:30 p.m., Social hour
Enjoy Diva’s Night (women only) at Taproot. Buses depart from the convention center from 5:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. Event starts at 6:30 p.m. Men are welcome to join after 9 p.m.


Tuesday, Sept 18
7:45 a.m.-8 a.m., Announcements
8 a.m.-9:40 a.m., First session
9:40 a.m.-10:10 a.m., Break
10:10 a.m.-11:30A.M., Second session
11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Lunch
1 p.m.-2:20 p.m., Third session
2:20 p.m.-3:50 p.m., Posters and break
3:50 p.m.-5:10 p.m., Fourth session
11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., ISSW steering committee meeting
Movie Night at the Beartooth Theatre Pub with a multimedia presentation by Fred Beckey- Timing TBD


Wednesday, Sept 19- Field Day
Buses will depart the Dena’ina Center for the Alaska Railroad terminal between 7 and 7:45 a.m. Train departure will be at 8 a.m. Your registration packet will have more specific information with respect to your field trip choice. It is critical that everyone be on the train by 8 a.m. or the train will leave without you.


Thursday, Sept 20
7:45 a.m.-8 a.m., Announcements
8 a.m.-9:40 a.m., First session
9:40 a.m.-10:10 a.m., Break
10:10 a.m.-11:30 a.m., Second session
11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Lunch
1 p.m.-2:20 p.m., Third session
2:20 p.m.-3:50 p.m., Posters and break
3:50 p.m.-5:10 p.m., Fourth session
5:15 p.m.-6:45 p.m., American Avalanche Association Meeting in Kahtnu 1 and 2
7 p.m.-11 p.m., Banquet


Friday, Sept 21
7:45 a.m.-8 a.m., Announcements
8 a.m.-9:30 a.m., Four simultaneous workshops in Kahtnu 1 and 2 and Tikahtnu sections C, D, and E
9:30 a.m.-10 a.m., Break
10 a.m.-11:30 a.m., Four simultaneous workshops
11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Lunch
11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m., Avalanche Dog Handler Rendez-vous at Delaney Park Strip
1 p.m.-2:40 p.m., Last papers session
2:40 p.m.-3 p.m., Closing remarks


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