Convocation, Students, Resource and Environmental Management

SFU grad develops classification system to keep backcountry recreationists safe

June 09, 2020

When Anne St. Clair decided to pursue a career in the avalanche industry, she wanted to learn from one of the best which meant packing her bags and heading to the Great White North.  

St. Clair, who relocated from Colorado to Vancouver to study at SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, graduates with a Master of Resource Management.

She is the recipient of the 2020 Dean’s Convocation medal, awarded to students whose grades place them in the top five per cent of their class.

“Canada is a world leader in the avalanche industry,” says St. Clair on the line from Revelstoke, BC where she works as a public avalanche forecaster for Avalanche Canada.

“Canadian approaches to problem solving and research are well regarded. Researchers have developed tools and frameworks that are globally applied. That’s really what drove me here. I wanted to learn from the experts and wealth of knowledge in Canada.”

In 2017, St. Clair joined the SFU Avalanche Research Program led by SFU professor Pascal Haegeli. She collaborated with a team of scholars to develop evidence-based tools to help backcountry recreationists (skiers, snowmobilers, mountaineers) make informed decisions when facing avalanche threats.

She created a comprehensive avalanche bulletin user typology to help address the needs of recreationists with varying decision making and risk management skills. Her classification system consists of five ordered stages of user types with distinct skills and bulletin information use patterns.

St. Clair’s innovative approach quickly caught the attention of the avalanche community.

“The Canadian and international avalanche safety communities have followed Anne’s research with great interest and curiosity,” says Haegeli. “The response to her avalanche bulletin user typology has been overwhelmingly positive, which clearly highlights its importance and potential for improving recreational avalanche safety in Canada and around the world.”

Building on her master’s research, St. Clair returns to SFU next fall to pursue a PhD in resource and environmental management.

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