Avalanche Center Home Update - May 4, 2009

An Update from the Avalanche Center
May 4, 2009

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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.)

Yesterday there was a list issue which involved a spammer taking advantage of an obscure bug in our list configurations. It took about 15 years for this to happen, so it is truly an obscure problem. Replies to the spam also ended up going back to the list. This was fixed within a few hours, and some of the mail was killed before it was sent to the entire distribution. This was not related to any virus, on our systems or anywhere else. Nor was it a breach of privacy of any email addresses - the spammer was able to send their junk mail but only through the list address. They did not have, or obtain, direct email addresses. Unfortunately this type of thing happens from time to time on the internet. The US state department list for travel advisories and consular updates has had a similar issue more than once, so it can happen to anyone. (The problem on our system was fixed as quickly as the problems seen on the state department list or anywhere else, despite having no paid staff and an especially small budget this season.)

The last update was January 30, and the period since then is probably a record length of time for a lack updates during the (northern hemisphere) winter. There are various reasons for this, as well as potential implications. However, the lack of updates does not reflect a lack of work and maintenance on the web site. The store has been operating as usual, advisories have been posting and being emailed, and the incidents section has been maintained.

This update will summarize some of the progress and new content, but with over four months worth of work to catch up on it will take a few more updates to cover everything.

Incidents - http://www.avalanche-center.org/Incidents/

The incidents section fell a bit behind for a while but is nearly caught up once again. Emails have been posted to the list available to members covering most updates as they have occurred. Fatality counts are correct to date for the US and Canada, France, Slovenia, and maybe a few other countries. The Swiss incidents need to be added to the database yet, and most of the French incidents will have more details added soon. There is some other work to do yet as well.

The totals on the main Incidents section page are correct: 128 incidents have been recorded for the season so far (96 of them with fatalities), with 203 total fatalities. The searchable database now has over 1500 incidents archived which can be recalled for any arbitrary date range within the last ten years. They can also be retrieved and sorted by activity, country, and/or number of fatalities. This is a unique resource not available anywhere else.

In the US there have been 23 fatal incidents with 27 fatalities. (The database also contains some additional reports of incidents without fatalities.) In Canada there have been 17 fatal incidents with 26 fatalities. There is now a table with all of the Canadian incidents for the season.

This includes all archived incidents for the season without limit, along with the total number of fatalities. It can be sorted on each of the columns, but it still lacks the full flexibility available through the members interface. (Arbitrary date ranges, searches by activity or other filters, etc.) We may duplicate this for other countries and states in the future.

Budget - http://www.avalanche-center.org/Organization/contribute/

One of the implications of not sending out updates has been a vary large drop in contributions. The economy may also be a contributing factor, although an annual membership is not out of range for many people. At least some of the US Forest Service centers have had great success fundraising this season, so it appears that the main factor is our lack of updates and requests for contributions. Nobody likes being asked for donations, and those of us running non-profit organizations generally hate asking for funding. But nothing is free. Some things may appear to be free, especially on the internet. But somebody is paying the bills, whether or not it is the end user. In the case of non-government avalanche information it is generally up to the end users - nobody else is going to support it for you.

Our donations are just over half of usual at the moment. Store revenues are still below our budget projection, but may reach that level by the end of the season (which is Sept 30).

The future of publicly available resources like ours depends on funding. We will not threaten to shut down if we don't receive some particular amount of money. This seems to work for some centers but we find it distasteful. We will continue to do what we can with the resources we have available. We cannot do this indefinitely without our budget returning to a more typical level, but for now we can continue into (and probably through) another season at some level.

If you value a quality source of reliable avalanche information please contribute. All funds go to operating expenses, there is no payroll and all time and effort is donated. There are links to budget information at the top of our contribution page:


Very few websites appear to offer this level of information on their finances but we have always believed in public disclosure. We also file an IRS return each year even though we are well below the minimum amount for which this is required.

Condition Information - http://www.avalanche-center.org/Bulletins/

Most federal avalanche centers in the US have stopped writing advisories now. Many of them post general spring information, and we have links to all of this in our Education Section. There are also links to web pages on spring avalanche safety. Look for the link at the top of our main Education Center page:


One of the services we have reduced is the email distribution of advisories. A few lists were so small that they were terminated, and most regions now have only a text version sent out via email. The html version can always be found on the website.

Store - http://www.avalanche-center.org/store/

We have some inventory left that we have not yet had time to post at spring sale prices. The number of beacons is limited. All shovels are currently listed on the sale page. We have many probes that have not yet been listed. If you're interested in a spring deal on an avalanche probe feel free to email us and we'll see if we can work out a good deal for you before everything gets posted. Sale items are generally posted on the members page first, and are usually at a lower price there than the public sale page. Members also pay no shipping, even on sale items.

By the next update we should have our remaining inventory posted.

In Conclusion

This doesn't fully cover over four months worth of work, of course. More will follow before too long. You can always peruse the website and see whats new, and refresh yourself on avalanche safety information.

In January we asked for some help with our graphic logo. We should have new color bookmarks (or "club cards" as they seem to be called) this week, followed by decals before too much longer. This has taken a couple volunteers and four months for various reasons, but I think we are done and ready to check out some new promotional materials. More on this next time.

We have also had some growth in our Facebook following. While much of it followed previous updates we have had new friends trickle in since then as well. Once we are caught up from winter we need to find a way to use this for something, like offering special deals through Facebook or something like that. If you haven't joined us there check out the link below and become a friend. There is also a link on our profile to a "page" of ours you can become a fan of. This all helps promote the site, and you never know what we may offer through that channel in the future.

There are several ways you can help us out and show your support:

  • Contribute and join: http://www.avalanche-center.org/Organization/contribute/
  • Buy equipment: http://www.avalanche-center.org/store/
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/avalanche.center/
  • Bookmark our pages on sites like Mixx, Digg, Del-icio-us and others
  • Use Goodsearch and Goodshop when you search the web or buy online

Jim Frankenfield
Executive Director

Avalanche Center Info