• M. Sc. 2018

    Earth Sciences

    Montana State University

  • B. A. 2011


    Alaska Pacific University

  • Minor 2011

    Outdoor Studies

    Alaska Pacific University

You can reach John at john_sykes@sfu.ca.

Meet John

John started his career as an avalanche professional in 2011 working as a mountaineering guide and avalanche educator in Alaska. Feeling the draw to further his education in snow science, he completed a MSc at the Snow and Avalanche Laboratory at Montana State University. After that he worked as a guest physical scientist for the National Park Service in Wrangell St Elias and Denali National Parks, during which he was accepted to the SARP program as a PhD student. Since then he has been chipping away at his PhD research. Starting in winter of 2021/2022, he also took an avalanche forecasting role with Chugach National Forest in Girdwood, Alaska to balance his research focus with developing more applied avalanche experience. 

John's research

John has a wide range of research interests, ranging from physical sciences to psychology and has acquired a diversity of experiences in the field. His PhD research combines these skill sets, working on developing automated avalanche terrain models and using GPS tracking data to understand the decision-making process of professional ski guides. He works closely with expert guides to try and combine their perspective of decision-making with detailed spatial information from the GPS and terrain data. His goal is to capture institutional knowledge of experience guides and build the foundation for future decision-making tools. 

John’s publications at SARP

Automated Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES) mapping - Local validation and optimization in Western Canada

Journal PaperTerrain ManagementUnder public review
John Sykes , Håvard Toft , Pascal Haegeli , and Grant Statham
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss. [preprint], https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2023-112, in review
Publication year: 2023

AutoATES v2.0: Automated avalanche terrain exposure scale mapping

Journal PaperTerrain ManagementUnder public review
Håvard Boutera Toft , John Sykes , Andrew Schauer, Jordy Hendrikx, and Audun Hetland
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss. [preprint], https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2023-114, in review
Publication year: 2023

Quantitatively capturing decision-making practices of mechanized ski guides using GPS tracking, avalanche terrain modelling and Bayesian Networks

Conference Paper - ISSWTerrain Management
John Sykes, Pascal Haegeli, Roger Atkins, Patrick Mair, and Yves Bühler
Proceedings of the 2023 International Snow Science Workshop in Bend, Oregon
Publication year: 2023

Automated snow avalanche release area delineation in data sparse, remote, and forested regions

Journal PaperTerrain Management
John Sykes, Pascal Haegeli and Yves Bühler
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 22, 3247–3270, https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-22-3247-2022
Publication year: 2022

Click here for a full listing of SARP publications.

John’s software packages


SoftwareTerrain Management
Håvard B. Toft and John Sykes
AutoATES-v2.0, https://github.com/AutoATES/AutoATES-v2.0
Publication year: 2023

Click here for a full listing of SARP software packages.

John’s research presentation videos

John Sykes, Pascal Haegeli, Roger Atkins, & Mike Welch
Characterizing the 2023 Guiding Season – from the guide on the ground and from GPS and avalanche terrain data
2023 CAA Spring Meetings

John Sykes, Havard Larsen & Pascal Haegeli
Automated Avalanche Exposure Scale (ATES) Mapping
2022 AGU Fall Meeting

John Sykes
Automated ATES Mapping
2021 CAA Spring Meetings

Click here to view all SARP presentation videos.

Podcasts featuring John’s research

Grant Statham, John Sykes, & Andy Sovick
7.21 Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale
The Avalanche Hour

Click here to access the podcast on Soundcloud.