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A proposed new program, scheduled to begin in fall 2017 at Colorado Mountain College Leadville, will offer students in-depth training for working safely in and around avalanche terrain, such as here near Monarch Pass, where CMC outdoor studies instructor John MacKinnon holds class. Photo Roger Coit

A proposed new program, scheduled to begin in fall 2017 at Colorado Mountain College Leadville, will offer students in-depth training for working safely in and around avalanche terrain, such as here near Monarch Pass, where CMC outdoor studies instructor John MacKinnon holds class. Photo Roger Coit

By Carrie Click

LEADVILLE – The highest-altitude college campus in the country is about to have another distinction: a program aimed to better train workers in avalanche country.

Starting in fall 2017, Colorado Mountain College Leadville plans to introduce an immersive program on snow and avalanche safety. Called SWAT – for snow, weather and avalanche field technician – the 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 Colorado Avalanche Information Center and Colorado Mountain College established a cooperative relationship in 2014 to develop the program’s extensive snow science and avalanche curriculum.

“The Colorado Mountain College program fills a niche in North American avalanche education,” said Dr. Kelly Elder, a supervisory research hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service, who worked on SWAT’s development team. “The proposed curriculum and program format is a significant departure from any other model and will serve professionals at many levels.”

Concurrently, SWAT’s training is appropriate for aspiring and working ski patrollers, ski area snow safety employees, transportation workers, rescue technicians, environmental scientists, avalanche forecasters, government researchers and educators. For working professionals, SWAT will provide additional and advanced education and hands-on training. These workers interested in professional development may enroll in individual courses and waive the application process by demonstrating their current knowledge and experience.

For the aspiring avalanche technician, SWAT will offer a certificate of occupational proficiency establishing the graduate’s superior level of competence in preparation for a future in snow-related industries. This full certificate program is meant to be completed over two years, involving 21 credits and 500 hours, with both class and field work required. Student applicants must have basic avalanche safety and rescue training, be physically fit, and have appropriate equipment and skill to travel safely in the wintertime backcountry environment.

“This high-elevation facility provides ample opportunity to learn about mountain weather, mountain snowpacks and avalanche formation,” said CAIC Director Dr. Ethan Greene. “It is located near a variety of active avalanche safety programs. The program leverages these resources to help students develop snow science and avalanche safety skills.”

For more information about the SWAT program, which is currently pending state approval, contact CMC’s Roger Coit at 719-486-4259 or rcoit@coloradomtn.edu, or visit coloradomtn.edu/swat.