Managing avalanche terrain

Eirik Sharp, owner and operator of The Sharp End: Mountain Adventures, with his extensive avalanche background, is bringing change to how the Yukon manages avalanche terrain. Sharp, 36, was born in Hong Kong. He is Norwegian and his family travelled all over the world, as his mother was a diplomat; and his father, a helicopter pilot.

“I moved 12 times by the time I was 18; I had a helicopter pilot for a dad,” said Sharp. “I wanted to go to a good university, with good skiing nearby, so my options were UBC in Grenoble, or Innsbruck.” He chose UBC.

He came back to Canada when he was 20 years old, after travelling and skiing in Europe. He went to Vancouver to study math within a Bachelor of Science. “[It] took a long time to do my degree, as I took winters off to be a ski bum,” said Sharp. “Dave McClung, a premiere avalanche researcher, was a professor at UBC. He gave an avalanche presentation and that’s when I decided that’s what I wanted to do.” After university, Sharp worked as a field researcher in Rogers Pass and met Mike Smith, who owns and operates Northwind Avalanche and Weather Services, in the Yukon.

Sharp spent five years as an avalanche technician at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, in Golden, B.C., while actively pursuing certification in anything avalanche. “[After five years] I felt had learned everything I could at a ski hill and a controlled environment. Avalanche Canada posted a field technician [position] for the Yukon in 2010, and Mike mentioned I should apply,” said Sharp. “I had to look at a map to see where the White Pass is. I didn’t know much about it and came up [in] 2011. Mike met me with Jenny. She offered to take me skiing in the White Pass the next day. And I was like, Oh, a girl asking me out. Cool. We went skiing the next day and, well, we’re married now.”

When Sharp moved to the Yukon, little existed for avalanche services here. The Yukon Avalanche Association was formed in 2010 through start-up funding, the Search and Rescue New Initiatives Fund. “The hub of avalanche world [Revelstoke] was doing an innovative field program, which hadn’t really been done anywhere in the world,” said Sharp. “It’s such a large region to forecast for with no data … it jumped my career 10 years forward.” Sharp ran the avalanche program for two years, from 2011 to 2013 in the Yukon.

In 2013, Sharp’s dream job came up in Revelstoke as a public avalanche forecaster “to build and solve a challenge. Avalanche forecasting is done by the sharing of hundreds of avalanche data,” said Sharp. “It was a dream opportunity to give back to a community I had been part of. I was living in Yukon, but commuting down [south] in winter.”

From 2013 to 2016, Sharp worked in Revelstoke during the winter and started the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) program in 2014, which he completed. But having his girlfriend, at the time, in the Yukon, year-round, he decided to utilize the opportunities of the Yukon and to start his avalanche consulting business.

“The Yukon is an unserviced market. Down south there’s lots of work but not lots of entrepreneur opportunities,” said Sharp. “I like learning and learning about how business runs and operate a business such as risk management. So, instead of being buried in snow, I’m trying not to be buried in debt. Business is growing, but [I’m] not sustaining myself fully [yet], I back up with work in B.C.”

Sharp works in avalanche consultation for mining companies in the Yukon and B.C., such as film companies, mining companies, but also for recreationalists. The Sharp End manages field programs in the Yukon, providing information and assessment for people to work and play safely in the mountains. He provides courses for backcountry recreationalists, and works to develop public avalanche-safety products with avalanche Canada.

The Sharp End also provides public recreation courses, such as Avalanche Skills Training. “Helping people play in the mountains is something I’m really passionate about,” said Sharp. “ I moved up to the Yukon to help build a public avalanche-safety product for recreational backcountry users. That product has now evolved into Avalanche Canada’s biweekly White Pass Hot Zone Report, and I’m proud to still be involved with the program.”

His company, Mountain Risk Management provides industrial services related to mountain risks. “On the other end of the spectrum, I recognize the business opportunity in helping organizations that work in mountains to safely extend their operating seasons and maximize their efficiency,” said Sharp. “We can bring expertise in hazard mitigation, mountain meteorology, remote sensing, and spatial analysis, to help get the job done.”

Their goal for next five years is to continue to build relationships with industry patterns in the Yukon and Northern B.C., and to refine their services to help organizations and individuals work safely and effectively in avalanche terrain.

About Eirik Sharp

Eirik has a Master’s in Avalanche Mapping (University of Leeds, UK), where he trained an artificial intelligence on the habits of ski guides, to identify avalanche terrain. Pascale Haegeli, from Simon Fraser University, was his supervisor.

He is an ACMG member and a professional member of the Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA). He teaches their Industry Training Program as well as the Weather Course, level 1 and 2.

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