Avalanche Center Home Update - May 1, 2006


An Update from the Avalanche Center
http://www.avalanche-center.org/
May 1, 2006

Quick Contents -

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(To translate this update enter the URL "http://www.avalanche-center.org/Organization/updates/" and then follow the link on the translated page to this update. This way the entire page/update is translated.)

This is likely to be the last update for a while. There are some changes and updates to announce, but the timing is also related to our efforts to sell the few items remaining in the store inventory sale. I'm also trying to get this out before taking a break from a winter of working full time on this project. Usually I begin to get a break in April, but this year has been busier than usual.

The server problems we experienced a little while ago have been mostly taken care of by reconfiguring our server to operate within the strict constraints set by Verio. (They advertise unlimited bandwidth and more disk space than anyone needs, but there are other restrictions which are not part of their marketing which are much stricter than most competitors.) There have been a few more problems that did not originate with our server, and these tend to persist until somebody using the server notices and calls Verio. They apparently don't monitor the hardware loads very well themselves. These problems are especially frustrating since the site was moved to their newer, bigger and better server plan last fall and that required a great deal of work. The possibility of another move is not a very pleasant thought, so hopefully by the end of summer we will be able to feel confident that the current plan is adequate and reliable again.

Please do report any problems you may encounter on the site at any time, whether its an error message or unusually slow load times, problems involving email lists, or anything else. The best monitoring system a website can have is feedback from the users. Email snow@csac.org with any reports. We did get a report last week and this is always appreciated.

Remember that we rely almost entirely on support from the public for everything, including all overhead expenses. You can help by purchasing equipment in our clearance sale (so we have money for bills over the summer rather than gear on the shelf), or by making a donation and becoming a member. More on our budget for the season is below. Thanks.

Avalanche Store - Spring Clearance Sale !!

Every spring we put all the items left on our shelf on sale. We've sold all of our digital beacons but have two Ortovox F1 beacons left. We also have two shovels left, and numerous probes. Prices have been lowered on both the public sale page the members sale page. (And members pay no shipping. Even on sale items.)

In addition to getting the best price you'll find anywhere from us you also get membership for one year if your purchase is $100 or more, and this applies to all purchases including sales. So help us get through the summer and get a good deal for yourself - visit our sale page now.

Even though we are unloading the shelves of the limited inventory we maintain mid-season we can also continue to fill orders for anything else. We'll probably need to order it for you, but we have a pretty quick turn-around time. And we will continue to match any price you find anywhere else on any item.

Newsfeeds

The new newsfeeds page which uses RSS feeds to list the most recent news and blog entries from a number of sites has been fine tuned and is updating properly as the feeds update. It will show the most recent topics from our News feed and our Incidents feed, the latest post topics from our forums, and the most recent blog entries from two blogs. (Entries in Lou Dawsons "Wildsnow" blog which he categorizes as avalanche related, and a new avalanche blog I recently started.)

The newsfeed for the forums is now fully implemented and an "XML/RSS" link appears at the top of the page while using the forums. This link takes you to a page where you can design your own feed, there isn't any automatic one like the News and Incidents feeds. You can choose which forums you want to include, the kind of feed you want, and a few other things. I've created a forums feed for the "Newsfeeds" page which is now working ok. There was a bug related to changing the preferred domain name to avalanche-center.org but that is fixed now. The page where you design your feed has also been rearranged to better meet our needs.

There are a few other sources I would include if they had RSS feeds, but they don't. If anyone knows of or finds additional sites of interest (news, forums, or blogs) please feel free to suggest them for inclusion on our newsfeeds page. This is something that will become more useful, more popular, and more refined in the future since many sites are just now beginning to offer RSS news feeds. Our own feeds will be improved next season, especially the ones for advisory keywords which will be split up to allow any single advisory to be subscribed to on its own.

Spring Avalanche Safety; Advisories

The page in the Education section with spring avalanche safety resources is up to date, with links to many of the end-of-season advisories which include generic spring information. There are no daily updates through the spring and early summer even though many of us continue to ski, and climbing becomes more popular at this time of year. It isn't difficult to assess spring conditions and the resources available through this page will help you learn how.

The only advisories still issued in North America are for Mt Washington in NH and the Eastern Sierra. Spring skiing in the ravines of Mt Washington is very popular and the rangers there usually issue information through the spring, although they have stopped using the five-level danger scale. The Eastern Sierra advisory is a couple times a week and scheduled to end soon. Some of these advisories include very technical sounding information, usually at the end. The most recent was on "Snowmelt". This is sometimes technically incorrect or confusing, and usually not relevant to bottom line decisions on backcountry safety. Don't be mislead by it. Focus on the main observables such as freezing level, what time of day the snow softens, cloud cover, etc and don't get lead off track with attempts to apply things like latent and sensible heat transfers to your decisions. (For more commentary on the science of snowmelt you can visit the new avalanche blog. Recent titles are listed in the newsfeeds page, or go directly to http://www.avalanche-blog.com/ )

Also, while it may not matter for this season anymore beware of bookmarking or linking to the bulletins for Canada from the CAA. On several occassions we've received reports that the URL changed, and it appears it may be different for each bulletin issued. Unfortunately the outdated links continue to work, and there is no obvious "Archival" stamp or anything. Somebody in a hurry could easily skim an old bulletin and think it was current. It seems like it is necessary to click your way through the CAA site from the top to be sure you get the most recent version. This is unfortunate for those sites which are regional and would like to link directly to the applicable advisory, and for individuals wanting to bookmark an advisory. In the worst case it could be dangerous if the wrong information is taken as current. So beware and check the date in the intro. Thanks to those who pointed this out.

Incidents Section Updates

As of today: 169 Reports and 294 fatalities for the season; 897 reports in our database.

There are now 169 reports reflecting 294 fatalities from around the world. Of these 32 deaths have been in North America (24 in the US and 8 in Canada). Since the last update there have only been a few new reports. There were two separate fatal incidents in Canada, both of which did not get into the news for almost a week. One was in a remote area. The other involved two climbers who had not registered their plans on this particular trip (as they usually do) and it took several days before they were reported missing and rescued. The survivor made it through two or three nights with serious injuries, including a broken femur.

Budget

In our Organization section (also labeled "About Us") there is a section with financial background. The page showing our historical revenue and expenses was recently updated. This shows where our funds are spent and what sources we rely on to pay for the project. If there are any questions, comments or feedback on our budgeting (or any other aspect of the project) please use the forums to bring the matter to our attention and we will address it there.

The graphs have not been updated since the last email update, but most parts of the revenue picture are at the projected level. Except for user contributions. The auction total was known when it closed. Advertising revenue is on track so far to meet the projection, and the store is slightly over our goal. Unfortunately our user contributions remain below the projected amount by over $1500.

We need your help, as we seem to every spring. Please take a minute to make a contribution if you are able to do so. This is a unique resource which only exists as a result of donated time and funds. Some seasons we've gotten a burst of donations when we announce in spring that we are below our goals (and needs), or somebody has offered a matching challenge. Our season actually lasts until Sept 30 and we do get some contributions late in our operating season, as well as a few more store sales. But not too many.

Our projections are based on a combination of past seasons and what we feel is realistic for this season. The store is doing a bit better than the last year or two, but in order to make more sales we have to do more discount matching. Advertising is better than recent years because Adsense is doing better than industry sponsorships did (and takes a lot less of my donated time). Contribution projections are in line with past years, which have been pretty flat without much gain or loss in several years. Even if we can meet the projected budget total for this season it will be our lowest budget since our first season over ten years ago.

One disappointment was the lack of contributions for our email lists for the daily national bulletins for Switzerland. Until recently we continued to offer this for free, and simply requested contributions. All of our other lists have been part of a larger "package" of benefits available to members for a long time now. Our last request for donations from the switzerland lists met with no success. These lists were large, and it is finally time to run them like all the others. We received less than half a dozen contributions out of a couple hundred subscribers. That was a potential source of new contributions, but it seems that most people just like the list service as long as its free and don't really want to use or support the overall project. When we first began these lists we had people in Europe asking how they could contribute, but we couldn't process anything other than an expensive wire transfer. Now we can accept credit cards and free bank transfers within the EU but the interest in donating is no longer there.

Miscellaneous Updates, Changes, and Improvements

The shift in the preferred domain name should be complete on the user end now. The domain csac.org is still valid, and is still the only domain which will handle email. So all links and bookmarks will always work. But the domain avalanche-center.org is now the primary one. (There are several others which should be equivalent also, but I don't remember the status of those at the moment.) When you visit the site the address in your browser will appear as avalanche-center.org regardless of how you got to the site. Internal updates to links may still be required for a while. The server updates them as you go, but changing them in the site to be direct will be more efficient once its completed.

During some of the recent server problems the basic site would continue working but any scripts or database features would not. (Such as forums, the links section, etc.) One thing Verio did do during one support discussion was reinstall the database program (to be "threaded"). I also made some configuration changes. The result is that database features appear to be working very efficiently now and using very few server processes. During problems similar to those in the recent past these features are now likely to keep working also.

Upcoming Improvements

There will probably be more work done over the summer. In the short term I need a break, and throughout the summer I often end up with other projects to work on. So its not clear when the site will receive attention, but there are numerous things requiring attention. Including reprogramming some of the contributor/store processing so that I don't have to manually do so much bookkeeping. During the season its just been too hard to concentrate of programming and easier to keep the records manually, but it took a lot of time this season. I only have so much time available and I hope to be able to spend more of it on content.

The basics (such as incident reports) will be updated as needed and when time permits me to catch up on them. There is often no update sent out over the summer. Last year there was one late in the summer after a burst of work. If there is time to get some significant work done I will send an update out as appropriate. To see if there is anything new check the site once in a while. Especially for incident information.

I'm tempted to look for grants again also. But the last effort didn't get any results, and it doesn't look like any other centers receive very much in grant money either. Avalanche safety and educational information seems hard to find that kind of support for. So I'm not sure whether I will try to spend time on that or not, it may be more worthwhile to work directly on the project. The theory being that a better resource will attract more support from users.

It's been a long and busy season and I'm feeling ready for some spring skiing and climbing. Now that this update is out it's time for a break. Please help out if you can by checking out our small remaining store inventory on sale, or by making a contribution. The economy is booming, or so I hear. So we should be able to match last years totals at least.

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. And remember that in many regions some of the best skiing and climbing exists this time of year. Avalanche season isn't over yet.


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