Blog: UAC Podcast - Mastery and False Mastery - An Interview with Big Don Sharaf

Ben Bombard

In this podcast, we sit down with 'BigDon' Sharaf.Don has run the gauntlet of a varied and well-traveled 30-year snow career.He has taught avalanche andmountaineering courses for the past 25 years and been aheli-skiguide andavalanche forecaster in Alaska for the past 15 years. In other words, he's got enough mileage in the mountains to have learned a thing or two, including the profound value of humility when staring into the face of the dragon.

In the 1990's, Donwas the NOLS"winter God", running and teaching the organization's winter backcountry and avalanche courses out of the winter branch in Driggs, Idaho.From there, he joined the staff at Valdez Heli-Ski Guides, quickly becoming their avalanche forecaster.A decade ago, he teamed up with Don and Sarah Carpenter to buy and continue the legacy of Rod Newcomb'sAmerican Avalanche Institute (AAI),the oldest and most revered avalanche school in North America.

At the core of our conversation is the the idea of mastery, if such a thing can be said to exist in the avalanche world.We tried to tease apart what distinguishes "mastery"from "false mastery," illuminating pitfalls and stumbling blocks for expert avalanche practitioners.We discussed different theories for improving decision-making in the backcountry -- includingAAI's Avalanche Checklist-- when the siren song of powder is calling your name. We also talked about mentorship in its various forms. Don speaks with some authority on the subject. He has been recognized as the most prolific mentor of up-and-coming backcountry skiers and avalanche professionals in the industry, a distinction he holds by a wide margin.

Although he constantly challenges himself tofigure out how avalanches work, his true passion still remains moving though themountains… and rivers.

Photo below, from left to right: Don Carpenter, Don Sharaf, Sarah Carpenter, and AAI founder Rod Newcomb.