Postdoctoral Fellows

Simon Horton

Dr. Simon Horton (2017-2022)

After graduating with his PhD in Avalanche Mechanics from the University of Calgary and a few winters as an avalanche safety practitioner, Simon joined SARP as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the fall of 2017 and stayed until 2022. During this time, he led the snowpack modelling research efforts at SARP, which aim to better understand how weather and snowpack models can assist avalanche safety practitioners. During the entire time at SARP, Simon worked as an avalanche forecaster for Avalanche Canada during the winters. Simon is now working full-time for Avalanche Canada where he continues his work on snowpack modelling in collaboration with SARP.

Dr. Scott Thumlert (2014-2016)

After graduating with his PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Calgary specializing in avalanche mechanics, Scott joined SARP as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the fall of 2014. Scott’s position in SARP was funded through a Mitacs Elevate postdoctoral fellowship that was sponsored by Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing. During the winter time, Scott primarily worked out of Blue River at Mike Wiegele’s as an avalanche researcher and ski guide. Scott’s research focused on deriving an objective avalanche terrain severity score based on terrain choices of professional guides that were recorded at high-resolution with GPS tracking units. Scott is also a professional engineer registered in BC.

Graduate Students

Heather Hordowick – MRM (2022)

Heather joined SARP in the fall of 2019 with an engineering degree from the University of Alberta. For here masters, Heather conducted a qualitative interview study where she interviewed 22 public Canadian avalanche forecasters to better understand what considerations they take into account when deciding to add or remove an avalanche problem from the public avalanche bulletin. The results of her research provide valuable insights about how forecasters have operationalized the Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard and highlight areas for potential improvements. Heather has stayed in the avalanche safety community and is currently working with 6 Point Engineering.

Click here to see Heather’s research project.

Abby Morgan – MRM (2021)

Abby joined SARP in the fall of 2019. Her research focused on how winter backcountry recreationists perceive and use the North American Public Avalanche Danger Scale. The results of this research give avalanche warning services valuable insight into how their target audience is using the danger rating. Abby is currently working for the BC Ministry of Forest in Squamish, BC.

Click here to see Abby’s research project.

Katie Fisher

Katie Fisher – MRM (2021)

Katie joined SARP in the fall of 2018 with a background in biology. Her research explored three different opportunities for making the avalanche bulletin more useful for recreationists using a large interactive online survey. First, she examined how different graphic representations of the location of avalanche problems affect users’ ability to apply the hazard information. The second part of her project studied to benefit of interactive exercises, and in the last part examined how the travel and terrain advice could be made more accessible. The results of Katie’s research can be used by avalanche warning services to improve the effectiveness of their messaging. Katie is now working as an Operations Analyst 2 for Natural Resources Canada in the Carbon Accounting and Reporting team at the Pacific Forestry Centre.

Click here to see Katie’s research project.

Henry Finn

Henry Finn – MRM (2020)

Henry joined SARP in the fall of 2017 with a background in education. While he was involved in several projects, his thesis research focused on examining the avalanche bulletin literacy of backcountry recreationists. Using an interactive online survey, he examined whether participants who say that they use the avalanche bulletin at a certain level of sophistication (click here for more information on bulletin user types) actually have the necessary skills to do so. One of the key take-home messages from Henry’s research is that while participants generally had a good understanding of the basic concepts, putting them together into a risk assessment is challenging for many. Henry is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Edinburgh where he uses his social science skills to explore the transformative potential of university-level education for sustainable development.

Click here to see Henry’s research project.

Moses Towell

Moses Towell – MRM (2019)

Moses joined SARP in the fall of 2019 with a geology degree from the University of British Columbia. His thesis research was situated in the snowpack modelling group of SARP. In collaboration with Simon Horton, Moses explored how the avalanche problem types published in public avalanche bulletins in Glacier National Park relate to simulated weather and snowpack observations. The results of his pilot study provide valuable background information for the development of a model chain that predicts avalanche problem types. Moses is now the Resource and Development Manager for the Uchucklesaht Tribe in Port Alberni.

Click here to see Moses’ research project.

Anne St. Claire

Anne St Claire – MRM (2019)

Anne joined SARP in the fall of 2017 with a background in sociology and extensive experience as a avalanche safety educator. For her masters research, Anne conducted 46 semi-structured interviews to better understand how winter backcountry recreationists use public avalanche bulletins in their trip planning process. The avalanche bulletin user typology that emerged from Anne’s research represents an important foundational step towards a better understanding the needs of different backcountry users and the development of more targeted risk messages. Anne is currently pursuing a PhD with SARP that builds on her masters research.

Click here to see Anne’s research project.

Brendan Wakefield – MRM (2019)

After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Brendan joined SARP in the fall of 2016. His research focused on developing a better understanding of all the factors that contribute how guides in mechanized skiing operations select runs for skiing. Building on a new terrain characterization framework that was developed by SARP and industry partners to capture the nature of skiing terrain more comprehensively, Brendan built various statistical models to explore how the accessibility, skiing experience, hazard potential and guidability of a run relates to its physical characteristics. Furthermore, he examined how these aspects are traded off when guides decide where to ski.

Click here to see Brendan’s research project.

Taylor Clark – MRM (2019)

Taylor join SARP in the fall of 2016 after graduating with a BA in Physical Geography from UBC Okanagan. Taylor used avalanche hazard assessments published in public avalanche bulletins in Canada  to examine the relationship between the nature of avalanche problems and avalanche danger rating assignments. The results of his research provide valuable insight into avalanche forecasting practices and will help to make avalanche bulletins more consistent in the future.

Click here to see Taylor’s research project.

Reto Sterchi – MRM (2018)

Reto joined SARP from Switzerland in the fall of 2015. His research examined the relationship between terrain choices and avalanche hazard by mountain guides in mechanized skiing operations.  Reto first developed a method for deriving operation-specific ski run classes based on historic run list assessments to characterized ski runs in a concise, but meaningful way. He then used the classification to develop a model that relates the open/closed status of ski runs to current avalanche hazard conditions. Reto is now pursuing a career as a helicopter pilot.

Click here to see Reto’s research project.

Bret Shandro – MRM (2017)

Bret came to SARP with a BSc in Civil Engineering from the University of Alberta and was part of our research group from 2015 to 2017. His research focused on characterizing the nature of avalanche hazard in western Canada using expert assessments according to the Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard (Statham et al., 2018) published in avalanche bulletins of Avalanche Canada and Parks Canada. He also examined the relationship between the nature of avalanche hazard and relevant atmospheric oscillations, such as El Nino-Southern Oscillation or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Bret now works as an engineer in the Vancouver office of Klohn Crippen Berger Engineering.

Click here to see Bret’s research project.

Jon Garner – MRM (2015)

Jon came to the School of Resource and Environmental Management from Parks Victoria (Australia), with an interest in understanding the influence of technology on the behaviour of outdoor recreationists. His research was the first to examine the influence of Heads Up Display goggles on the speeds of recreational skiers. The results of his research provide valuable information to ski area managers about the potential risks and opportunities associated with the adoption of this technology. Jon currently works for Vancouver Foundation, Canada’s largest community foundation, funding projects that address a broad span of issues from complex social problems to environmental management concerns across BC.

Click here to see Jon’s research project.

Luke Strong-Cvetich – MRM (2014)

Luke entered the School of Resource and Environmental Management with a strong background in outdoor recreation and mountain safety. While at SFU, Luke worked with Pascal and Wolfgang Haider on a study that focused on improving the development and delivery of snowmobile specific safety information. Using a Discrete Choice Models and Structural Equation Models, Luke’s graduate research made a significant contribution to the relatively new field of snowmobile specific avalanche research. Click here to learn more about Luke’s research. In addition, Luke worked with Pascal and the Canadian Avalanche Association to facilitate the migration of historic InfoEx avalanche safety information into a new geospatial database system. Luke now works for Compass Data doing a variety of GPS mapping projects around the world and volunteers with Save The Waves, an environmental nonprofit focused on coastal conservation.

Click here to see Luke’s research project.

Matt Gunn – MRM (2010)

Matt was the first masters student in the School of Resource and Environmental Management working on an avalanche related research project. His research aimed to better understand the motivations, attitudes and perceptions of out-of-bounds skiers regarding avalanche safety. Click here to learn more about Matt’s research. After completing the planning stream of the MRM program, Matt entered the world of municipal planning. Following four years of planning in the Regional District of East Kootenay, he moved to the District of Squamish where he currently works as a senior planner. Matt is well-known in BC’s outdoor community as the author of the popular guide book  Scrambles in Southwest British Columbia.

Click here to see Matt’s research project.

Visiting Students

Eirik Sharp – MSc in GIS (2018)

Eirik completed his Masters of Science in GIS program at the University of Leeds in 2018. For his thesis project, he worked with Pascal Haegeli at SARP to quantitatively explore the cumulative exposure of heli-ski guides to avalanche terrain by combining a fuzzy logic approach to start zone identification with GPS tracks of ski runs that were collected at a collaborating mechanized skiing operation. Eirik is an ACMG Ski Guide and industrial avalanche consultant. He also teaches with the Canadian Avalanche Association Industry Training Program and works with Avalanche Canada’s Public Avalanche Warning Service.

Click here to see a conference paper published by Eirik.

Matthias Walcher – Master’s in Mountain Risk Engineering (2017)

Matthias joined SARP during the winter of 2017 from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna, Austria, where he was pursuing a Master’s degree in Mountain Risk Engineering. His thesis research at SARP quantitatively examined the risks involved in mechanized skiing from all types of hazards. While we had a good understanding of the risk from avalanches, little was known about the magnitude of the risks from other hazards (e.g., tree wells, flying, etc.). Click here for his thesis.  Matthias’ research offers valuable insight for the the development of new targeted prevention initiatives. Matthias is currently doing an internship at the Tyrolean Avalanche Warning Service in Innsbruck, Austria.

Click here to see Matthias’ research project.

Beni Zweifel – PhD (2014)

For his PhD, Beni studied the effect of group dynamics on avalanche safety of winter recreationists in the Department of Management, Technology and Economics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) in Zurich, Switzerland. During his studies, Beni came to Vancouver for six months to work with Pascal Haegeli as a visiting researcher in the School for Resource and Environmental Management. His research resulted in the design of a awareness tool called SOCIAL that helps recreationists recognize group dynamics that have the potential to affect their risk assessment and decision-making. SOCIAL has since then been integrated in the Swiss avalanche education curriculum. After finishing his PhD, Beni returned to the WSL Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, where he is a member of the avalanche forecasting team.