ESAW wrap-up and Outreach Events

It’s hard to believe that this year marked the 10th year of our annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop.  Over the years, the event has been hosted in many locations including in the basement of the Weather Discovery Center and the gym of the John Fuller Elementary School in the early days of the event, to the prestigious ballroom of the Mount Washington Hotel, and more recently at Fryeburg Academy’s Leura Hill Eastman Center for Performing Arts. This year, like all other Snow and Avalanche Workshops across the country, we adopted the virtual format. In addition to hosting some incredibly accomplished avalanche professionals from across the US and Canada, this format proved to vastly increase the accessibility of the event with a record attendance of over 450 participants. 


The 10th Annual ESAW was split into three shorter, evening sessions with two speakers each night and a “roundtable” discussion with all speakers on the final evening. It broke down like this: 


Night 1 Night 2 Night 3
Eric Knoff

Using the ECT and PST to reduce false stable snowpack assessments

Don Sharaf

Wind Slab; Anticipation, Observation and Management

Frank Carus

Updates from the Mount Washington Avalanche Center

Grant Statham

The Howse Peak Search and Recovery Operation

Bruce Tremper 

Back to the Basics – All I really need to know I learned in a Level I Class.

All Speakers

Panel Discussion

Interactive Q & A Interactive Q & A




We have included links to the recorded presentations from each night for anyone who may have missed ESAW or who might want to access these talks for reference in the future.  Here are some of the big takeaways from the presentations.


Takeaways from night 1: 

Eric Knoff of Six Point Avalanche Education presented on using both the Extended Column Test and the Propagation Saw Test in test pits to reduce false stable assessments. Eric dug into a huge dataset that was derived from the computer program SnowPilot in order to look at the results of PSTs versus the results of ECTs in the same test pits and began to quantify their relationship. Knoff made strong arguments for a broader adoption of the PST in conjunction with an ECT done in the same test pit. He presented evidence that using these two tests to examine the same instability can paint a clearer picture of the avalanche problem and its susceptibility to triggering and propagation while ultimately helping to reduce false stable results.

Out of respect for the families of David Lama, Hansjorg Auer, and Jess Roskelley, Grant Statham’s presentation was not included in the ESAW recording.  For those who watched the presentation live, it was a harrowing first-hand account of the complex rescue and body recovery of the three professional climbers from their deadly accident on Howse Peak in 2019. Statham broke down the incident command system, tactics, and outcome of the weeklong mission which gained significant media attention due to the high profile of the climbers and their objective – a new route near M16 on the East face of Howse Peak. Investigative in nature, Statham helped paint the picture of the route accomplishment and what might have happened on the descent. For anyone interested in learning more about this incident, check out John Roskelley’s (Jess’ father) article in the American Alpine Journal.


Takeaways from night 2: 

It was exciting to hear about wind slabs from someone who has spent most of his career in some pretty windy areas.  Don Sharaf got his start with snow as the Hermit Lake Caretaker getting to know wind slabs intimately before living or working in other windy ranges including the Tetons, the Chugach and Alaska Range, and the Himalaya. Don presented strategies and techniques for forecasting, testing, and managing terrain involving wind slab avalanche problems. His depth of experience in this area and advice for dealing with wind slabs was valuable and pertinent for both professionals and recreationalists. 

Distilling complex information into simpler terms for presentation while still capturing the nuance of the topic is incredibly challenging, and arguably one of the hardest parts of being an avalanche educator.  It was inspiring to watch Bruce Tremper deliver a creative Back to Basics presentation because of his ability to do this and have his presentation be equally relevant for novice backcountry skiers as it was for avalanche educators, guides, and forecasters.  Bruce talked about statistically-significant strategies for reducing our risk of being caught in an avalanche, using terrain to your advantage as a backcountry traveler, and travel rituals.  That approach has helped Bruce live a long life working around avalanche terrain. 


Takeaways from night 3:

The third night brought together all speakers in a roundtable-type discussion. ESAW is always a great time to see avalanche specialists come together from across the country and share ideas, trends, and stories from their local mountain ranges. This open dialogue and discussion and the collaboration that it leads to is a great example of how we can all move forward as a community. For the panelists, their connection during avalanche workshops can lead to future research projects or partnerships, adoption of new methods, and the continued evolution of best practices. For the audience, not only does new learning come from this type of discussion, but it is a fantastic reminder of the effectiveness of working together and helping each other out.

All indicators are pointing to this backcountry season being a busy one. Shops are selling out of touring equipment, internet forums are more active than ever before, ski resorts have heightened restrictions, and backcountry ski media is “in” right now. For anyone just getting started in the sport, welcome! We encourage you to seek out some education and coaching from guide services, avalanche educators, and more experienced friends. For those of us on our X season of backcountry skiing and riding – be aware of the increase of people in avalanche terrain, don’t be afraid to help someone out who might need it, and above all else: Ski Kind. We like this graphic:


Intro to Avalanche Awareness Night Recap

On October 30th we hosted a series of short presentations from local guides and educators covering some basic topics of avalanche education and awareness. We saw an incredible attendance of almost 800 participants! A few of the presentation topics included Choosing your Backcountry Partners, The Avalanche Danger Scale, and Identifying Avalanche Terrain.  Thanks to our local presenters Nick Aiello-Popeo, David Lottman, Tyler Falk, and Jon Tierney.  Check out the recorded presentations here :


Another great resource for anyone new to backcountry skiing is a a new book by local skier Brett St. Clair and ACMG Ski Guide Craig Evanoff called Tips for Beginning Backcountry Skiers.  This book is available for free as a PDF download here :


Updates from Mount Washington Avalanche Center:


  • New website will be launched this season.  Look for a format that is the same as some other forecast centers in the Western US. 
  • The biggest noticeable change in the forecasts will be avalanche hazard by elevation with three distinct elevation ranges plus a rating for the following day.
  • Two new Snow Rangers for the 2020/2021 season.
  • Hermit Lake snotel site is up and running but the 3 hour, 6 hour and 24 hour display is currently unreliable. Use the hourly display for totals. 
  • COVID has limited numbers of potential rescuers on the mountain. Be prepared to self rescue by traveling with at least one other person and by carrying the appropriate equipment.
  • We will adding Avalanche Awareness talks over the next few days. Check our embedded calendar on our Hompage for details and ways to connect virtual talks. These are free events!


Upcoming Events to Look For:


  • Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain w/ Mike Austin.  December 10th, 7:00pm
  • Youth Avalanche Course on March 6, 2021
  • Avalanche Rescue Clinics this winter at Hermit Lake
  • Continuing avalanche education presentations
  • A schedule of virtual avalanche awareness talks will be posted soon



Thank you!!

Patrick Scanlan – WMAEF volunteer


A huge thank you to Bruce, Grant, Eric, Don, and Frank for taking the time to present at ESAW  this year. Another huge thank you to all who attended ESAW.  The ticket sales from this event go a long way in supporting these educational opportunities and in supporting the Mount Washington Avalanche Center Operations. 


Thanks to our ESAW Sponsors : 


Black Diamond Equipment for their donation of an avalanche beacon for the raffle

DPS Skis for their support of our educational programs and specifically, our youth program

Patagonia for their donation of a DAS parka for the raffle


Raffle Winners : Congratulations to : 


Mateusz Patrosz, winner of a Patagonia DAS Parka!


Jonathan Hartnett, winner of a Patagonia DAS Parka!


Thomas Feenstra, winner of a Black Diamond Avalanche Beacon!