An Update from the Avalanche Center
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This is our Tenth Anniversary! We were incorporated and established as a 501c3 nonprofit in August of 1995. Very few internet resources have survived this long, leaving us as one of the oldest online.
I've been putting off writing an update since it's been all I can do lately to keep this project up in addition to the growing number of other ventures I keep finding myself involved in. At this point it is primarily to announce the upcoming annual fundraising auction as well as a new store policy of matching all competing prices. Updates and changes to the website will only be described briefly, you'll have to surf through the site and have a look around to really appreciate recent changes and work.
There have been a couple emails about RSS feeds. One suggested using one for these updates, and in fact we already have one in the news section for new stories, press releases, and website news. I will try to make it a point to see that new updates get into the feed, and this one has been added. The News section feed is our least used, perhaps since it does not change as rapidly as advisories and incident reports. You can find it at: http://www.avalanche-center.org/News/ver2.rss
General Website and Project News
The biggest change since our August update should be largely transparent but represents a very significant amount of effort. The company we get our server space through has had a better package available for a while. I've put off moving to the new server environment until I felt I could devote most of my time to the move for a couple weeks. In September I finally saw a window of time when I could do that. The new package has several times as much disk space (although we were not pressed for space on the old one), but most importantly true root-user access for full administration. Our first generation environment allowed me to do many but not all of the things a full administrator can do. Due to the "split personality" behind this there were also two different paths pointing to the same program or file, and the correct one had to be used in given situations. Now all of these paths are the same, but this did require updating a lot of programs and other files. The version of php is also newer. Due to such changes there were a lot of things to fix. In a number of cases I didn't know things were broken until much later. I believe that 99% of the site works correctly once again, and therefore works better as well. You may find something somewhere which gives an error or does not function properly, in which case you should report it via email so it can be fixed. Most repairs at this point are not very complicated.
This new server package is only about $10 or so more per month than our previous one. I've had local ISP's offer to host the site, but I require and expect full root privileges and a dedicated environment. Few companies can provide that. Our current situation is highly stable with very little down time as well. I appreciate those offers but I can't see this particular area as one where we can benefit from donated server resources. Any cost savings would be more than offset by my time and labor, which is uncompensated.
The Education Section has been improved recently, and the few elite avalanche education programs who support us now have all their courses listed in the "Course Listings" pages. These can be searched and sorted. When choosing a course please consider that these programs help make this resource available. They are also some of the countries top programs with highly qualified instructors and first rate curriculums. And AlpenPro courses include a year of contributor status with the CSAC, and all the additional access that brings.
The first effort at introducing an online course is also up and running now. This one is open to all contributors at no additional cost. Future courses will include more offered in this way as well as some which are more resource intensive, including active instructor involvement and advanced topics, and those will have to be offered on a fee basis. Unless some source of underwriting becomes available, which appears highly unlikely.
If you are a contributor you can log in and go to the main welcome/index page to find a link to the very basic first course. (Contributors will also notice that what used to be two separate index and welcome pages have been condensed into one page to simplify things significantly.) Feedback is welcome. The program being used was first developed in Belgium for online university courses and is currently being supported, expanded, and used world-wide primarily by formal educational institutions. It still has its limitations but it has a lot to offer.
One final note that I don't believe I made before - advertising. Yes, we now display Google adsense ads on many of our pages. At the same time I have given up pursuing sponsorships because it took too much time with too little return. We just haven't gotten interest from industry as a whole on sponsorships, although we get a bit more for the auction. (But thanks to Backcountry Access, LifeLink, Marmot, and others who took their turn at helping out over the years.) So far it appears that Google adsense will produce more with less time and effort than sponsorship. And the ads are targeted to the pages they appear on, so much of the time they are quite relevant. For now AlpenPro and one or two other sponsors still appear as a result of very large in-kind contributions of time and expertise.
If you're really anti-advertising remember that ads pay for what you see - on tv, in magazines, and on the internet. If you don't mind making your own modest contribution of $25 or more you can log in when you visit and there will be no ads displayed.
Annual Fundraising Auction
It's that time of year again, and we will be running our eighth annual fundraising auction in December. I got off to a late start seeking goods due to other demands on my time. So far two mass faxes have been sent out and our one bulk mailing was just made.
The auction page is being kept as up to date as possible: http://www.avalanche-center.org/auction/
Due to the late start I got this year the success of the auction will depend heavily on help from our supporters. At the very least we need you to bid in the auction, but we also need as much help as possible promoting the auction on newsgroups, forums, clubs, etc. And we can use some help seeking goods as well. More on this below.
More details will follow in the next update before bidding opens. But please visit the main auction page for details, and do what you can to promote it. At some point I will try to post a flyer there which can be printed and posted on local bulletin boards or distributed through clubs.
Volunteer help needed
Immediate: Fundraising Auction - We need help with one thing which is simple enough for everyone to help with. Promotion. I used to post in newsgroups heavily and in forums where some people were appreciative and became active bidders. Unfortunately if I post too much it becomes annoying to people as advertising, although when multiple other people bring it up this tends not to be the case. So its up to those of you who support the site to give it a plug in forums and email lists as appropriate. I've also become a bit hesitant to post too much after certain people have responded with attacks against myself and the project. (There have always been a small but rather ugly group of people who have not liked the idea of a non-profit sector project. Non of whom have donated even a fraction of the time I have to the cause, both to the CSAC and to fundraising for the Forest Service.)
A bigger need is help looking for items. We have lists of companies that donated in the past and could use help following up with them for this year. It also never hurts for people to pick a company or two whose products they like, go to their website, and tell them you would really like to see something in our auction. Tell them you support our work and you like their products. It may give them some reason to consider donating product(s).
As with my last minute call for help in August with the Retailer show my goal is to begin to establish help for the future as much as anything else. It's late to accomplish what we could this year, but if volunteers get involved and learn how to work together using a forum to communicate and coordinate then next years auction efforts could get started much earlier. Let me know if you're interested in getting involved and if there are at least a few people I will hook them up in a forum so they can coordinate and set their own directions.
Other Offers of Assistance
I often get unrelated offers after a call like this, or sometimes out of the blue without solicitation. Unfortunately its all I can do to keep the bare bones project running and if I haven't asked for something here I probably will not have the ability to coordinate it. In the end the need comes down to tasks which help pay for the project. These are not the most fun, but they are important. Before starting this project I boosted the Friends of the Utah Avalanche Center from more or less a paper shell to a vibrant organization which raises a significant part of the forest service centers budget there. I would rather have been writing advisories or doing research, but sometimes other things are more important. Your help with fundraising for the CSAC is important and its the most essential thing required for the future of the project.
I do not need programming help at this time. There is significant programming but it consists of small scattered jobs integrated throughout the site. By the time I deal with defining one, assigning it, and handling server access I could usually be finished with several of them. We do not need board members or officers, unless they have a clear plan for board development. Our current board is not very effective beyond the legal requirements of oversight, primarily because board development takes a lot of time. Until somebody with time and skill in that area picks up the ball we have no real need for more members. We do not need web hosting resources.
I do appreciate suggestions and advice. One reply last time made numerous good points. It's unfortunate that I have yet to reply to the person, but several comments and suggestions have been implemented at least partially. If you run a website and have suggestions or problem reports about this one they are welcome. Whether improvements can be implemented depends on their complexity and my time, but every suggestion is given consideration.
Incorporating somebody in any significant way really requires that they be involved over time and carry out a variety of tasks. The one person who has been a key part of the team in the past, starting at the beginning, is Jeff Clarke. Some may know or remember him as store manager at one point, but he also has helped with office management a the start, with incident posting, and with industry networking. His enthusiasm and spirit has also served as an inspiration to me at times of frustration. I'm very happy to report that Jeff has returned this season after retiring from managing Rocknasium in Davis, California. He now lives in Grants Pass Oregon and has some time to contribute again. Welcome back Jeff.
New Store Discount Policy
We have always stuck to a policy of selling at manufacturers suggested retail since we began. Unfortunately a number of other places do not, and in order to maintain a sales level which produces a viable funding source we are now adopting a "match any price" policy.
This is a matching policy, if we are matching a deal somewhere else and it ends then our discount ends. We will change to the next best deal we are aware of.
We will match any regular posted price. We will match any sale price for the duration of that sale unless it is a clearance which specified a certain limited number of the item is available. We will match the "free shovel or probe" deals on a discount percentage basis. (If somebody offers a free shovel with a beacon that is a discount. We calculate the retail value of the combination and the effective discount, and we will sell either item for that amount off.) We will match any package deal with an equivalent package.
If you find a better price anywhere else let us know. We will match it.
This is another area where we need your help with promotion. If one of us posts this policy on a forum it is advertising and gets removed. But when somebody unrelated to a shop posts that the shop has a sale or a good deal then it seems to be generally considered ok, as one consumer helping another. So let people know that they should check with us for the best deal anywhere.
We do not provide free shipping. However, for all orders over $100 (in final cart value, regardless of whether there are sale items or discounts or whatever) the customer receives contributor status for one year on the site, and all the extra material that can be accessed with that. Remember that purchasing from us supports these materials and resources. All proceeds go into this, the store makes no profits for any individuals and pays only a student worker hourly for handling orders.
And by the way, our shirts are all on a close-out sale right now. We want to move them and buy a new batch. See the Store Sale page.
As you can see, there has been a lot going on. This update did not detail website changes so surf around. Go to the News section and view the "files changes in the last 14 days" page. (Or if you are a contributor and log in regularly you can see changes since your last login.) This constant site improvement is what makes the CSAC the most comprehensive and robust avalanche information site on the internet. For a full ten years. Many thanks to those who contribute in one way or another.