The Friends of the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center was formed in 2011 by a group of backcountry enthusiasts that had a goal to increase avalanche awareness and advisories for the public. Through collaborating with the Forest Service and the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center they worked on setting important goals for funding, resources, and public outreach that the Friends and the Avalanche Center could work on achieving together.
The Friends group is a non-profit 501c3, organized to support and contribute to the educational and public advisory activities provided for the public by the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center. These activities include avalanche education for the public, operation of weather stations and organization of a team of snow observers to supplement observations made by the IPAC forecasters. The “Friends” Mission Statement is… To support the Idaho Panhandle National Forest Avalanche Center in providing avalanche forecasting and education to the public.
We rely on volunteers and donations to operate and assist the avalanche center to fund personnel and purchase gear. Federal funding to support Avalanche Centers nationwide is limited so donations to expand the work of avalanche awareness comes from people like you. Your support will enable IPAC to continue to provide weekly avalanche advisories and expand their education curriculum.
Meet the Team
Ben Bernall, Forecaster
Ben has been working as the Avalanche Specialist for the Kootenai National Forest since 2015. His avalanche education includes Canadian AST-1 and 2 courses as well as Level 2 and 3 courses through the American Avalanche Institute. His entry into the world of winter backcountry travel began in 1994 when he borrowed some telemark skis from a friend and made some skins out of bailing twine. This turned into an obsession that eventually led to assisting with teaching avalanche awareness through the local SAR unit. When he is not working in the snow Ben helps manage the Trails and Recreation program in Troy, Montana. In his spare time he chases two kids and a wife around in the mountains biking, skiing, running and drinking coffee.
Jeff Thompson, Forecaster
Jeff gained most of his Avalanche Education and experience in the central mountains of Colorado. After graduating from Colorado Mountain College with a Ski Area Operations degree Jeff joined Beaver Creek Ski Patrol and served as the Head of Snow Safety for many years. He has taught many Avalanche courses as well. After 20 years in CO Jeff and his family moved to northern Idaho where he took the job as the Director of the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center. In the winter Jeff also spends time Ski Patrolling at Schweitzer Mountain as well and is a Avalanche Rescue dog handler. When Jeff isn’t playing in the snow he can usually be found with his daughter on a wild desert river, camping in the woods or enjoying some singletrack on his bike.
Kevin Davis, Forecaster
Kevin has been involved with the Avalanche Center since 1996 when he first began volunteering to provide pit data for the advisory. In 2006 he became the director of the program. Kevin’s avalanche experience has come through 20 years of backcountry skiing in Montana, Idaho, and Canada. His formal training extends from Level 1 from the American Avalanche Institute to Level 1 from the Canadian Avalanche Association and Level 2 from the National Avalanche School and numerous professional development courses. Kevin has been teaching Avalanche Awareness courses since 1998 and became a AAA certified instructor in 2016. He’s happy anytime there’s snow in the mountains.
Liz Figgins, Forecaster
Liz has been assisting IPAC since 2016. She began her backcountry ski career in Chamonix roughly 20 years ago with very limited skills, knowledge, and gear. Thankfully she survived that winter and went on the pursue her Level 1 and Level 2 avalanche certifications through AAI while ski bumming in the Tetons for the majority of her 20s. She has been recreating and skiing in the Inland Northwest since 2009. She is currently an Assistant Center Manager at Kootenai Dispatch (wildland fire) and forecasts (avalanche) primarily for the Kootenai area. She enjoys spending time in the great outdoors with her husband and 3 kids when she isn’t working.
Mikey Church, Forecaster
Mikey grew up skiing across Europe as a military dependent, and continued his love of the steep and icy skiing and working various mountains in northern Vermont until he moved to Montana in 2008. Mikey, who works in Recreation for the Lolo National Forest, began assisting IPAC with data collection in 2018. Mikey’s avalanche training consists of AAI Rec Avy 1 and 2, Rescue Fundamentals, and Profesional 1. Outside of work, Mikey can be seen chasing his 4 year old down the slopes, single track, rivers, and grocery aisles.
Izzy grew up skiing in Colorado and moved to the Silver Valley to work as a ski patroller. She began working for IPAC in 2022 as an avalanche technician. In addition, she works in the snow safety department on patrol, teaches avalanche classes and trains a lab to be a working avalanche rescue dog. In her free time Izzy can be found skiing in the backcountry, rafting, mountain biking, and running.
Brian began working as a volunteer with IPAC in 2016 while working as a ski patroller in the Silver Valley before taking the role as a Technician in 2022. Brian grew up in Sandpoint, Idaho where he currently lives and works full time as a patroller year round in the Selkirk Mountains. Brian’s avalanche training consists of AAI Rec Avy 1 and 2, Rescue Fundamentals, and AAA Profesional AVSaR. Apart from teaching courses, Brian enjoys backcountry yurt trips, long mountain bike rides and going on adventures with the love of his life with their dogs.
Growing up in Bonners Ferry, the mountains have always been Micah’s backyard. The avalanche center is a true calling; merging interests in mountain travel, snow, and science, it is professional work for the at-heart ski bum. Micah began as an IPAC Technician in the winter of ’22-’23. Micah’s avalanche education includes recreational level classes, field research, professional level 1, and certification as an AIARE instructor. He enjoys sled accessed backcountry, long ski tours, climbing, and distance running.
Friends of IPAC
Board of Directors
Gabe White, President
Gabe White has been supporting IPAC since 2016, elected to the Friends of IPAC Board in 2018 and currently serves as the Board President. He’s been a ski patroller at Silver Mountain Resort since 2010, is an NSP Certified L1 & L2 instructor, and currently working as the NSP Avalanche Advisor for our Inland Empire Region. He has been teaching avalanche classes in various snowpack types across the PNW since 2012. Upon completion of his Pro 1 Course in 2017, he continues to pursue Instructor education and training.
With an affection for 2-stroke exhaust, his passions include snowmobiling and dirt biking in the incredible mountains of North Idaho. Alongside his wife, Lexi, and new son, Benjamin, they can be found chasing their dog around the mountains all year long.
Tom Eddy, Vice President
Tom left the Midwest in 1990 to attend Colorado College and start skiing 80+ days per year. Upon graduating, he began patrolling at Beaver Creek Ski Resort where he received his first formal avalanche education from the experts at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and applied his knowledge during backcountry hut trips and teaching Avalanche Awareness classes for the community.
In 2008, Tom and his family moved to Sandpoint where he currently acts as the Snow Safety Supervisor for Schweitzer Ski Patrol, in charge of in-bounds forecasting, training, and avalanche mitigation. When approached by Gary Quinn six years ago, Tom joined the board of the Friends group which he has enjoyed watching both IPAC and avalanche education grow exponentially. Tom is closing in on nearly a half century on skis.
Mike Brede, Secretary
A Spokane native and small business owner, Mike grew up skiing our local resorts with his family and his love of exploring new terrain later led him into the Idaho backcountry. In 2013, he co-founded the regional backcountry skiing community: PanhandleBackcountry.com, with an emphasis on recreating safely. Mike began volunteering with the avalanche center’s Friends group around that time and more recently is assisting with instruction of the AAA avalanche courses. He brings a first-hand avalanche experience to the group, having been caught and critically injured in an avalanche accident locally in 2016.
Mike enjoys skiing every month of the year, backpacking, hiking and cruising town on his e-bike with his son. He spends most of his free time playing outside with his wife and son. Mike also manages the IPAC website.
Miles Rinne, Treasurer
Miles started working with IPAC in the winter of 2014/15 when he was awarded the Doug Abromeit scholarship to take his Avalanche Level 1 course. The following winter, Miles joined Silver Mountain Ski Patrol where he has worked ever since. During this time, Miles has taken the AST Level 2 course and the AAA Pro Level One Bridge course.
Miles has volunteered for IPAC in the field with the forecasters and at fundraising events since 2016. Miles spends most of his free time in the Silver Valley backcountry, and he is excited to continue working with IPAC as the Treasurer for the board.
Larry Banks is an accomplished splitboard mountaineer with 25yrs of backcountry experience and co-founded PanhandleBackcountry.com. Larry has written several articles promoting splitboarding as well as equipment reviews for several outdoor pursuit publications.
Through the last 10yrs, Larry has pursued his passion of avalanche knowledge by completing certifications of Avalanche Level I, II, Avalanche Rescue and currently studying for his Pro II course. He is a standing Affiliate Member of American Avalanche Center after undergoing review from A3 Governing Board.
Larry has been presenting Avalanche Clinics for the last 6 years then became a IPAC Level I Avalanche Instructor in the winter 2018 and a member of the Board of Directors of the Friends of IPAC in April 2019. You can follow his exploits on Instagram @Powderpanda.
Sean Mirus is a life-long skier, starting as the child of an Army officer stationed in Europe. The unique opportunity of growing up skiing and exploring the mountains of southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland forged a strong bond to the mountains. His father was the first person to get him into skiing and then ski patrolling while in high school.
Fast forward to 2006… After a stint as a collegiate ski racer, coach and program director in New Mexico, Sean ended up in Sandpoint after a road trip and never left. Working as a tech in the rental shop at Schweitzer, he met a few guys – Gary Quinn and Scott Rulander and they started showing him around the Schweitzer backcountry – Sean has been a backcountry enthusiast ever since.
Currently, Sean is the Marketing & Events Director at Schweitzer and tries to spend as much time as he can outdoors with his wife Kelly and dog Gunner.
Gary Quinn, living in Sandpoint ID, has been exploring the northern Selkirks for the last 35 years. He was brought here from Colorado as a wilderness educator, in which his primary responsibility was to instruct students in winter travel and lead them on multi-day backcountry trips. He began his avalanche training in the 90’s with an American Avalanche Association (AAA) Level 1. As avalanche training evolved, he enrolled in additional AAA Level 1 and Level 2 courses, and most recently (2015), a Level 2 AAIRE course.
He co-founded the Friends of Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center with the goal to increase educational opportunities and support additional avalanche forcasting. Gary now sees sharing his passions of education and winter travel by instructing the field days on AAA Level 1.