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Manuel Genswein: The man changing avalanche rescue

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Wherever there are mountains and snow, there are avalanches. They don’t care about the people: hikers, climbers, skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers.

But Manuel Genswein does.

Armed with a Swiss accent and distinctive voice, Genswein speaks with absolute authority on avalanches and people.

Genswein, trained an electronic engineer with a focus on geography, developed a practice that makes a difference when someone’s life is on the line. In fact, he’s been teaching his methods in 27 countries for the last 23 years.

Now he aims to make his methods the worldwide standard.

“In the winter months, I travel to teach mainly instructors all over the world, and in the summer months, I focus more on the development on future strategies and techniques and development of some of these rescue devices,” he said from a Colorado mountain pass.

While modern methods of gathering and communicating information about avalanches has greatly improved in the last two decades, he said, it isn’t always new developments that make a difference, but techniques that make rescue more efficient.

“Often, in spite of the fact that all the information is available, people make choices which lead to accidents,” he said. “Often, it is a problem of risk perception.”

He called avalanche rescue a domain where one must learn from a collective experience.

“The risk on an individual day might me very small, but as they accumulate so much exposure over a season or even over a lifetime in the mountains, the risk that it’s once them is very real,” Genswein said.

Jim Donovan is renowned authority of the subject, and says if you plan to recreate in mountainous terrain, avalanche education is critical. As director of Colorado’s Silverton Avalanche School in one of the most avalanche-prone mountain environments in the nation, Donovan teaches a full gamut of students, from recreational skiers and snowmobilers to elite professionals and military personnel.

“For mountain states, avalanche awareness and education is absolutely critical if you want to go play out in the mountains,” Donovan said. “That’s been one of our big missions, educating people from that very beginner stage all the way to the professional stage on how to be aware when they’re in the backcountry.”

He called Genswein one of the world’s best.

“He has really set the bar,” Donovan said. “Created the bar, and standard, for avalanche rescue worldwide. For us to have him is just a tremendous resource.”

Contact editor Brandon Mathis at bmathis@bcimedia.com or 970-375-4576

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