Montana State snow and avalanche education workshop set for Oct. 26
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: October 12, 2022

BOZEMAN – The eighth annual Montana State University Snow and Avalanche Workshop scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 26, will feature a keynote speech by the Colorado rescuer who attempted to save an MSU student who died in an avalanche in January 2012.

In addition to safety information, the collaborative educational event in SUB Ballroom A will include prize drawings, merchandise displayed by industry vendors and snow science research presentations. Attendees can visit with area avalanche educators and industry representatives from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., and the program will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The workshop also will be livestreamed at The event is free and open to the public.

Keynote speaker Jim Donovan is a certified emergency manager for San Juan County, Colorado, where he also serves on the Avalanche Commission for the International Commission for Alpine Rescue. During his remarks at the workshop, he will tell his personal story of attempting to save Olivia Buchanan, 23, after she was caught in an avalanche near Silverton, Colorado, on Jan. 6, 2012.

An outdoor enthusiast with considerable knowledge about avalanches who took safety very seriously, Buchanan seemed an unlikely victim. She had served as an intern for the Silverton Avalanche School and was studying geography with an emphasis on snow science in MSU’s Department of Earth Sciences in the College of Letters and Science at the time of her death.

Donovan will speak about the experience of responding as a rescuer to someone he knew personally and then applying the experience to a broader lens in avalanche search and rescue.

“Olivia Buchanan’s rescue was high-risk and challenged our whole response system and impacted the Silverton community,” Donovan said. “Her incident changed the way I approached organized avalanche rescue.”

Jerry Johnson, an MSU professor of political science who co-founded MSU’s annual avalanche event eight years ago, said Donovan was asked to speak in order to raise avalanche awareness to backcountry recreational skiers and encourage them “to up their rescue game.”

“We want our students to get geared up to think about this,” Johnson said. “We’ve had our share of accidents and close calls with avalanches.”

In addition to Donovan’s speech, the event will feature research presentations from three MSU graduate students: Maddie Beck, an earth sciences student, who will talk about using drones to better understand snowpack characteristics; Evan Schehrer, a materials science student, who will discuss the ways snow crystal facets affect snowpack; and Nata de Leeuw, also in the earth sciences department, who is conducting research on wind slab formation with a focus on the relationship between meteorological variables and wind slab properties.

Other speakers are Matt Caires, MSU’s dean of students, who will recognize the history of student ski-related injuries and fatalities during his time on campus, as well as how MSU has advanced snow safety initiatives as a result of these incidents; Shannon Regan, education coordinator for the Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center; and Dave Zinn, Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center forecaster.

Attendees will be eligible to win prizes from industry vendors.

The workshop is sponsored by the American Avalanche Association, MSU’s Department of Earth Sciences and Snow and Avalanche Lab, MSU Outdoor Recreation Program, Office of the Dean of Students and the College of Letters and Science.

More information, a complete schedule of events, and a link to the livestream can be found at

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