Local Avalanche Experts and CMC Instructors

Photo of the avalanche science instructors at colorado Mountain college Leadville

In fall 2017, Colorado Mountain College Leadville introduced an immersive program on snow and avalanche safety. The Avalanche Science program, based at the 10,200-foot Leadville campus and taught by respected experts, is a long-term preparatory program for those aspiring to or currently working in and around avalanche terrain.

The program, developed through a partnership with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) and Colorado Mountain College Leadville, aims to better train workers in avalanche country. Respected Colorado Mountain College faculty and local avalanche experts have not only designed the curriculum for Avalanche Science, but also will instruct the experiential based courses. Their invaluable experience in the nation’s most active snow sports region has shaped the curriculum. Their expertise is available to you through CMC’s partnerships with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, nearby ski areas, and leading industry professionals who will teach you both in the classroom and on the mountain slopes.

To enroll in the Avalanche Science program, you should have:

  • A solid foundation of college-level math, English, communication, and computer applications
  • Basic avalanche safety and rescue training
  • Wilderness First Responder or equivalent first-aid training
  • Ability to keep up with the program’s physical demands
  • Appropriate snow equipment and cold-weather gear
  • Ability to travel safely in backcountry winter conditions

Learn more about the Avalanche Science program at coloradomtn.edu/avalanche-science or request information.

Local Avalanche Experts and Instructors

Dr. Kelly Elder, Local avalanche expert and instructor for the Colorado Mountain College Avalanche Science program
Dr. Kelly Elder, USDA Forest Service Research Hydrologist and instructor for the Colorado Mountain College Avalanche Science program

Dr. Kelly Elder

Research Hydrologist, USDA Forest Service

  • B.A. Physical Geography, University of Colorado
  • M.A. Physical Geography Hydrology, University of California
  • Ph.D. Physical Geography Hydrology Statistics, University of California

Dr. Kelly Elder is a research hydrologist with the USDA Forest Service at the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Fort Collins, CO. He studies water distribution and the water yield from mountain snowpacks and his specialty is snow. He has worked to develop information and methods for measuring snowpack properties, distribution of snow cover and water equivalents in alpine and subalpine basins. Dr. Elder’s passion for snow hydrology and mountain climatology can be found in his numerous scholarly articles and professional publications.

In addition to his research efforts, Dr. Elder served as a faculty member for the Colorado State University Watershed Science Program from 1995 – 2000. He has taught courses on snow, avalanches, snow hydrology, physical geography and the geography of water resources. Since 2000, Kelly has worked as a Research Hydrologist for the USDA Forest Service, and continues to make valuable contributions to the watershed science field through collaborative research projects, and ongoing investigations in water distribution and snowpack studies. Learn more about Dr. Kelly Elder’s work with the USDA Forest Service by watching this youtube bio.

As an expert in the snow science field, Dr. Elder was involved in the development of the Avalanche Science program from concept to curriculum. He hopes that students graduate the program with a fundamental working knowledge that will allow them to pursue careers in the industry and benefit from the hands-on, applied approach.

“The Colorado Mountain College Avalanche Science program is designed to prepare snow and avalanche professionals for career paths in a new comprehensive fashion not available in any other venue.” says Dr. Kelly Edler, “It will change the way we train and prepare people for the professional snow worker industry.”

When he isn’t “buried” in avalanche and hydrology research or teaching students, Dr. Elder enjoys skiing at Arapahoe Basin, and spending time with his children and dogs.

Dr. Ethan Greene, Director of the CAIC and Avalanche Science instructor
Dr. Ethan Greene, Director of the CAIC and Avalanche Science instructor

Dr. Ethan Greene

Director, Colorado Avalanche Information Center

  • B.S. Meteorology, University of Utah
  • M.S. Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University
  • PhD Geosciences, Colorado State University

Dr. Ethan Greene grew up skiing Colorado’s Front Range was drawn to Leadville for the access to recreation, and the long winters with plenty of snow. In 2014, thanks to the partnership with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, Ethan set up the CAIC office on campus at Colorado Mountain College Leadville. The experiential based outdoor programs, access to state-of-the-art technology, resources, and the ideal location at 10,200’ elevation, made the CAIC and CMC partnership a natural success, paving the way for the new Avalanche Science program.

Dr. Ethan Greene has been the Director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) since 2005. Prior to his time with the CAIC, Ethan interned at the Southwest Montana Avalanche Center, was ski patrol at Big Sky Ski Resort and was an Avalanche Specialist at the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center.

Ethan has studied meteorology at the University of Utah and Atmospheric Science, specifically snowdrift formation, at Colorado State University. He has also examined and researched the microstructure of snow and its metamorphism in Colorado and Switzerland, earning a PhD in Geosciences. Ethan has published various scholarly articles on snow, weather and avalanches and been a member of national and international working groups on snow and avalanche projects.

Dr. Ethan Greene is one of the original supporters of the Avalanche Science program and helped with the initial efforts to design and approve the curriculum. As an avalanche professional, Dr. Greene recognized the need for an experiential based program geared towards industry professionals. He specifically looks forward to helping students how to define and address avalanche safety problems and preventing avalanche tragedies in Colorado.

“The Avalanche Science program gives students a chance to dig into the fundamentals of snow, avalanches and provides time to learn, experience and experiment.” says Dr. Ethan Greene, “I look forward to meeting, teaching, and working with a fantastic group of people.”

Brian Lazar, Deputy Director of the CAIC and Avalanche Science instructor
Brian Lazar, Deputy Director of the CAIC and Avalanche Science instructor

Brian Lazar

Deputy Director, Colorado Avalanche Information Center

  • M.S. Civil Engineering, University of Colorado
  • B.S. Environmental Science and Biology, University of Colorado

Brian Lazar, Deputy Director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), has spent the majority of the last 15 years chasing snow around the globe. When temperatures up north would rise and snow would inevitably melt, Brian would head south, seeking colder temperatures and a skiable snowpack. He began backcountry skiing in Colorado as a college student, and as his experiences and skill set grew, he transitioned into a backcountry mountain guide. After over a decade of guiding in a variety of snow climates on both sides of the equator, Brian returned to graduate school where he earned a MS in Engineering, studying snow and ice mechanics in Alaska’s Chugach, and conducting research at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.

Brian has been the Deputy Director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) since 2010. Prior to his work with the CAIC, Brian was an avalanche educator and curriculum developer as well as the Executive Director with the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE), and former member of the American Avalanche Association Education Committee. Brian has presented his work at numerous professional conferences including the International Snow Science Workshop (ISSW), American Geophysical Union, regional Snow and Avalanche Workshops, and the Nation Ski Area Association Conference. His work is published in peer-review journals such as Geophysical Research Letters, Cold Regions Science and Technology, and Weatherwise.

Thanks to a collaboration between Colorado Mountain College and the CAIC, Brian brings his years of expertise in avalanche education to the Avalanche Science curriculum. Brian was involved in the development of the Avalanche Science curriculum, designing the program structure, and assisting in selecting qualified instructors. He looks forward to assisting in individual student development through the program’s unique mentorship structure.

“My hope is that students leave with a core skill set and competency that allows them enter the role as an avalanche professional,” says Brian, “and can easily accept and Incorporate training and mentorship.”

In the summers, you can find Brian complaining about the heat, planning his next trip to the snow, and trying to keep up with his wife Michelle and two young children on mountain bikes.

John MacKinnon, Outdoor Recreation Leadership & Avalanche Science instructor
John MacKinnon, Outdoor Recreation Leadership & Avalanche Science instructor

John MacKinnon

Instructor, Outdoor Recreation Leadership & Avalanche Science

  • B.A. Geosciences, Williams College
  • M.Ed. Adult Education and Training
  • Colorado State University (To be completed in Fall 2017)

John MacKinnon, originally from the NYC metro area, began teaching at Colorado Mountain College Leadville in 2010. Since then, he has taught various CMC Outdoor Recreation Leadership courses, including rock climbing, backcountry skiing and avalanche safety. His professional experience includes 10+ years as a climbing and ski guide in Colorado and the Pacific Northwest, 4 years as an Avalanche Forecaster in Crested Butte, CO, and he has taught AIARE avalanche courses since 2007.

“I love teaching motivated students technical outdoor skills that they can apply in their personal and professional lives,” says John, who moved to Leadville full-time in 2013, “Furthermore, it’s really rewarding to watch my students develop into successful outdoor professionals.”

He is a professional member of the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA), the American Avalanche Association (AAA), and the AIARE Instructor Trainer Team. Additionally, John holds the following outdoor certifications: AMGA Ski Guide; AMGA Rock Guide; AIARE Level 3 Avalanche Certified; AIARE Level 1 and Level 2 Avalanche Course Leader; and Wilderness First Responder.

“I really like the fact that the Avalanche Science program is geared to working professionals from around the country,” says John, who helped design and develop the program’s curriculum, “This makes the classes a melting pot of experiences from different snow climates and different professional operations. Students will be able to share weather, snowpack and avalanche data from around the U.S.”

In winter of 2007, during a ski guide training course, John remotely triggered a large (D4) deep persistent slab avalanche. This “near miss” experience was a motivating factor to further develop his avalanche education, and spread awareness of avalanche safety. “I gained a healthy respect for the Colorado snowpack,” says John, “especially when dealing with low probability/high consequence avalanche events.”  

“I hope students leave the program with a skill-set that allows them to operate safely, competently and fluidly in the snow and avalanche industry.”

As an outdoor professional and recreation enthusiast, John enjoys Leadville’s easy access to uncrowded, wild places. His passions include backcountry skiing, climbing, trail running, and exploring the Leadville high country with his wife, Reed and their dog, Hannah.

Roger Coit, Professor of Emergency Medical Services, Outdoor Studies, and Avalanche Science.
Roger Coit, Professor of Emergency Medical Services, Outdoor Studies, and Avalanche Science.

Roger Coit

Professor, Emergency Medical Services and Outdoor Studies

  • B.S. Animal Biology (Zoology), Colorado State University
  • NREMT – Paramedic, Swedish Medical Center/ Health One EMS

Since 2009, Roger Coit has been a faculty member of Colorado Mountain College Leadville instructing EMS and Outdoor Studies courses.  Prior to becoming a full-time faculty member, he has taught as an adjunct instructor for the college since 1998, leading courses in avalanche safety, wilderness medicine, and urban EMS. From 2003 – 2011, Roger worked as a paramedic and Deputy Director for Summit County EMS, and he now works as a part-time Paramedic in Chaffee County, Colorado. Roger has significant wilderness rescue experience and has been a lead instructor for Wilderness Medical Associates since 1995. He was the ski patrol assistant director and snow safety coordinator with Monarch Ski Area for ten years, from 1991 – 2001. He also has many years as a river guide and river manager on the Arkansas River as well as guiding on many other rivers in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and West Virginia.

In collaboration with local avalanche experts and respected agencies, Roger has been involved in the development of the Avalanche Science curriculum since its very beginnings.

“The Avalanche Science program is incredibly unique,” says Roger, “Leadville’s ideal geographic location combined with our access to industry experts, and a curriculum that combines education, training and experience will provide a comprehensive program to build and prepare avalanche industry professionals.”