When APU senior Cristian Ortega was preparing for his speech at the International Snow Science Workshop in Innsbruck, Austria, he was instructed by Professor Eeva Latosuo to practice so much that it comes from your spine.
“I went into autopilot,” Ortega said. “I barely remember the questions people asked me about it later. I knew it so well that the answers just came out.”
Ortega was one of the few undergraduate students picked to present in front of snow industry professionals and experts at the conference. Of the 425 applicants awarded presentations, roughly one-third are granted 10-minute speeches. The rest of the applicants were permitted to present a poster. The fact Ortega was awarded an oral presentation is a big deal.
“I was starstruck when I found out that I was going to get to do an oral presentation,” Ortega said. “There were a lot of industry bigwigs that would be listening to my speech.”
Those “bigwigs” ranged from avalanche centers leadership, and world-renowned snow scientists, to the very authors of the textbooks used in Professor Latosuo’s Snow Science I and II courses.
“The tagline for the conference is ‘Merging Theory and Practice,’ which they did [at this event],” Latosuo said. “What’s cool is there are so many sectors of the snow industry, the guy who throws live charges to clear a mountain so we can ski, to the scientists studying snowpack. So we all come to the conference and are able to learn more from each other about the thing we’re all passionate about.”
Ortega presented on his APU senior project: The presence of social media use in the backcountry. His research involved venturing to Hatcher Pass several times last winter to interview skiers and snowboarders about the influence of social media in Alaska’s backcountry.
Each participant was asked 20 questions, including ‘do you own a smartphone,’ ‘what platforms do you use’ and ‘what types of content do you post?’
One thing of note for Ortega was the difference in how novice skiers used social media compared to the professionals. The former, he observed, used social media more frequently – primarily to share photos. The latter focused more on sharing snow profiles and notes on conditions.
Professor Latosuo said Ortega’s work is particularly interesting in Alaska, a state where cell phone coverage can be spotty.
The rest of Ortega’s senior project will focus on talking with industry professionals about how different avalanche centers use social media to inform their communities. Hatchers Pass Avalanche Center, for instance, posts to Facebook and Twitter a few times a week in the height of avalanche season.
“It’s important to know these things because it will influence how snow professionals engage with people,” Latosuo said.
Latosuo presented her poster which focused on “The Wise Ones.” It delved into the professional support and networking for those just starting out or at the top of the industry.
“These are people who are considered experts in their field, who still have others on speed dial for feedback and help,” Latosuo said. “That long-term, mutually beneficial relationship is really important in the industry.”
Other presentations included cognitive processes of ski patrollers, how to engage with snow-machiners and how cell phones can interfere with radio beacons.
Latosuo and Ortega weren’t the only APU community members at the conference. Three graduates, Katreen Wikstroem-Jones, now a geologist for the DNR, Adam Smith, the Assistant Director of Snow Safety for the Alyeska Ski Patrol, and John Sykes, who will soon start his Ph.D. in snow science at Simon Fraser University, were also in attendance. Ortega said it was exciting to meet up with fellow APUers and learn about their life after graduating.
“That was cool for me to see, as well,” Latosuo said. “That our people are going so far. That they come here [APU] and go on to do even more.”