Avalanche Center Home Update - January 6, 2006

An Update from the Avalanche Center
January 6, 2006

Quick Contents - Lots of Improvements and Additions:

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A lot of work has been done on the Avalanche Center website over the past few weeks. Here is a summary of what's new and improved.

Auction Summary

The auction closed December 16 and a lot of my time since then, especially initially, was consumed with the many tasks involved in wrapping that up. The final proceeds were $1440, which has been typical of many seasons. At its best it raised about $3500. I think $1440 is about as well as can be expected for a one man operation. This does take shipping into account but does not take into account some costs such as paying a student employee and buying internet mass faxing time. I've minimized the employment costs by doing most of the work myself, and it's rare that a student employee ends up being available close to the holiday anyway.

To fundraise to its full capacity the auction would require a group of people to get involved and really help get it going. This is the way fundraisers for the Forest Service centers work. Unfortunately I don't see that happening with the CSAC, which ultimately limits what can be provided to the public for free.

The auction page has links to a list of companies who have donated for each of the eight seasons, a graph of the proceeds each season, and a list of actual items auctioned for each season. Donating companies are in the Avalanche Network rotation and all winning bidders are registered as members.

Current Conditions Section - Improvements

I've recently gone through all of the avalanche advisories we post and verified and improved the linking of keywords to the glossary, both in the keywords list at the top and where they appear in the text. A few new terms are linked now as well. Changes made from checking one advisory can impact others so this takes a few rotations over a number of days to get everything working right.

All of the advisories also have been brought up to the current standard format in appearance. The html version which is available by email is slightly different than that on the web. The website version has a small javascript in it which allows members to click on the key icon by the ads and log in using a pop-up window. When you are logged in the ads do not appear, and extra features on the site are available. In many email programs and readers the javascript generates a warning, so the version emailed to subscribers does not contain that. (The email version is only available to members, and ads are not permitted on emailed pages under the terms of service.)

The emailed versions also do not have a keywords meta tag containing the current list of keywords anymore. In some programs this generated a minor error. While it didn't seem to prevent the page from displaying there is no need for that tag on versions not posted on the website so it has been removed along with the javascript.

Anyone can subscribe to the email service for a while, but over a two week period you will receive reminders to contribute. After two reminders your subscription is cancelled. Current list subscribers have received an extension over the holidays and three reminders and non-members will be removed tomorrow. The website versions of all bulletins remain freely available to everyone, including the keyword and glossary links.

The RSS feed for the advisories provides the keywords from the current bulletin. This is automated and has been verified as updating correctly.

Incidents Section Updates

This has been a big project lately. As of a couple weeks ago I had not posted anything for this season. There are now 31 reports reflecting 71 fatalities from around the world. They seem to occur about as fast as I can add them. Right now all of them are listed on the main Incidents page. I was going to start archiving them into the database but haven't had time after just getting them posted.

Last years incidents have been cross-checked between the list and the database contents and everything is correctly accounted for.

Contributors can log in and read the actual incident reports. Many contain photos, maps, and/or other related information. Wherever possible the advisory in effect at the time of the incident is archived and linked to. Those do not require logging in, they can be read by anyone.

The RSS feed for incidents is not automated and at the moment is not current. I was keeping it current until a couple days ago but the rate of additions has gotten ahead of me for now. This happens sometimes during the peak season. However, the email list used to update people daily on new additions (both new incidents and new info on previous ones) has been posted to every night. This email list is another extra available to members.

Once I begin archiving reports into the database it will only be possible to find the most recent additions on the main page. Contributors can use several powerful tools to search and sort reports. Limited versions of this feature are publicly available but return a limited number of results. At the bottom of the table on the main incidents page I keep as accurate a tally as possible on the number of posted reports and the number of fatalities for the season to date. (Currently 31 and 71, with at least one more known but not yet posted.)

Upcoming Improvements

Having spent so much time on the site for the last few months now I'm not sure what I will be able to get done next, especially with the time required for incident updates. However, there are a few things I hope to get to.

One is to return to working on the online courses I began. There are some self-serve tutorial type courses on various websites now, including some fancy Flash graphics. It may be the next fad. What I've begun to work on for the CSAC is a bit more involved and will permit classes which allow interaction between students and with an instructor. The courseware is widely used by academic institutions and was developed for that purpose in Belgium. But the trade-off to doing more is that more work is required to figure out how to make it all work as well as possible. The earliest basic courses will not be interactive and will be free to members. Later courses may be scheduled and enrolled and will probably have some kind of "tuition" fee, with a reduction for contributors.

A second thing which is not so complicated is to create a members email list. There are some ins and outs to using some of the contributor features, and sometimes I get email with questions or frustrations. Not very often, and many people are using the features with no problem. But new benefits are added, improvements are made, and there is currently no way to update members on these things. Since these are inherently membership benefits this site updates list is not the right place to distribute the details. The new list will provide for better service to contributors.

And one of these days I'd like to post news stories to the News section. In the course of finding incidents I also find avalanche related news, but so far have not had the time to really maintain the News section with very much of this.

Becoming a Member/Contributor

For people interested in becoming project contributors who have a real problem with donating $25 or more there are a few other options.

One is to purchase gear from our store. Any order with a total check-out value of $100 or more counts as a contribution. And you'll get your best price from us, we are matching just about anyone else's deals.

Another is to use the Forums. A while back I found an interesting "cash" modification to the forum program, and anyone who posts now gets "forum money" for participating. More for new topics, less for replies, but something for anything posted. This can be applied towards membership, in the future it may be useful in the store as well. You can also donate any or all of your forum money to another registered forum user.

The last is to take an avalanche course from AlpenPro, which is the name I provide education, engineering and consulting services under. All courses include a years membership in the avalanche center. In the future I'd like to somehow extend this to students of all programs which support us and list their courses on the site, but that still requires some consideration of the logistics and potential volume. Perhaps next year.

Avalanche Store Matching Discount Policy

We now have a page of discount prices (http://www.avalanche-center.org/store/discounts.html) matching the best deals known to us. But we'll also match just about anything on request. So far we've matched a discount a store gives local club members, and we've matched the low price of somebody retailing under the guise of an ebay auction. Let us know what price you can get anywhere else and we'll match it. And as long as the total is over $100 you get a membership as well.

I don't know what it takes to sell gear at the lowest price anyone offers, but we are still not selling nearly as much as we should be. We've sold a bit more due to our aggressive price matching, but we make less on those items too. We used to make $7000 - $8000 per year on store sales, a significant part of our budget. Lately its been down to about $4000. So far this season we are at about half that amount, so its unlikely we'll do any better even matching anyone's price. Along with the auction not reaching its full potential this also hurts the ability of the project to offer more to the public for free. The material we can offer to everyone at this point is due largely to the generosity of those people who make personal contributions, in many cases for quite a bit more than the minimum $25. If you're using the site and not contributing you owe them a big thanks.

Help Us by Distributing Bookmarks

I've made this request most seasons. At one time there was a great response, more recently its been minimal. But this is something that is VERY easy to do and helps promote the project. Request some paper bookmarks from us and put some in local shops, distribute through clubs, leave them in huts you visit, etc. We'd like to have them available anywhere backcountry recreationalists may go. They are cheap and they are easy for somebody to pick up and take home, so it makes people aware of the site.

You can also buy t-shirts and decals, that helps as well. Unfortunately we can't give those out.

If you have anyplace you can distribute bookmarks please email us at snow@csac.org and next week we'll send some out to everyone who asks.

Thanks a lot for using and supporting the site. Use it to stay aware and stay safe, and avoid becoming an entry in the lengthy incidents listing.

Avalanche Center Info