UAC Podcast - The Smartest Guy in the White Room - A Conversation with Ian McCammon

Drew Hardesty
In this podcast, we sit down with Ian McCammon.  Ian holds a PhD in mechanical engineering with an emphasis on robotics and sensory development and had always been an avid boater, climber, and backcountry skier.  The avalanche-related death of his friend Steve Carruthers in February of 1995 greatly impacted Ian and he soon left the engineering world for one of outdoor education and research.  From the late 90s until just a few years ago, Ian dove into avalanche research and his papers run the gamut from fracture mechanics to safety messaging to structural weaknesses in the snowpack.  His most (arguably) relevant pieces are his work on avalanche risk factors (ALPTRUTh), personal disaster flags (FACETS), and structural weaknesses in the snowpack (LEMONS). 
Ian has contributed so much to the avalanche community over the past 25 years.  
He was awarded the American Avalanche Association's highest award - the Honorary Membership Award in 2016.  I was privileged to craft and then present the citation, which you'll see below.  It should be noted that I knew that the eminently modest Ian would never show for a personal award and so some deception was involved.  With the help of his wife (KUER reporter) Judy Fahys and long time friend Don Sharaf, we told Ian we needed him to help celebrate an award for Don at the 2016 International Snow Science Workshop in Breckenridge Colorado.  I had Don first come to the stage.  And then Ian.  It was wonderful to see his surprise.  

Quick Bio: Ian McCammon has worked as an engineer in a variety of fields, and holds degrees in physics, materials science, and mechanical engineering. He has also guided and taught as a field instructor in mountaineering, winter and whitewater expedition settings. His avalanche research has focused on safety education, fracture mechanics, and the human factor. He has collaborated with international researchers and is the author of two avalanche books. He currently works in the defense sector.
Powder magazine and Black Diamond created something called The Human Factor to showcase Ian's research and findings.  You'll see them below.
Honorary Membership Award for Ian McCammon
We are here to recognize and celebrate Ian McCammon’s contributions to the greater snow and avalanche community in North America.  Ian earned a PhD in mechanical engineering at the University of Utah and worked in the robotics division at the University of Utah designing sensory systems for robotics and aerospace systems for organizations like NASA and the Department of Defense.  On a lark, Ian enrolled on a NOLS Winter Outdoor Educator course in January 1994 where a significant part of the curriculum included avalanche safety. Ian became a NOLS field instructor that same year. The rest, as they say, is history.  By applying an engineer’s understanding of the physical world, a statistician’s zeal for hard data, a psychologist’s understanding of the human element, and a skier’s love of the mountains, Ian has influenced our understanding of these ideas through numerous peer-reviewed papers, keynote speeches, and the dynamic presentations he is known for.  Of particular importance are his research projects in snow structure and human failure, for which his acronym checklists FACETS, ALPTRUTh, and LEMONS remain a foundation for decision-making, communication, and education across North America.  But let’s be clear in understanding Ian’s motivations.  His motivations have never been about making a name for himself, climbing the corporate ladder, or powder skiing.  Ok, maybe that last part is true.  Fundamental and central to his work was giving people the tools they need so they might enjoy the winter mountain environment, and do so safely.  So that they might enjoy powder skiing and return home at the end of the day.  It is impossible to quantify the number of people who have not perished in avalanches due to Ian’s research and his impact on avalanche education and methodology; however, what we can say is that Ian has affected a sea-change in the way in which we talk not only about snow, but about ourselves. 
For his long record of accomplishment in North American avalanche-related activity,
the American Avalanche Association is hereby presenting Ian McCammon with an Honorary Membership, our highest award and distinction. 
This was an amazing Pod Cast and thank you so much to Ian....
Wed, 2/27/2019