Avalanche Center Home Update - February 19, 2010

An Update from the Avalanche Center
Featuring our Incidents section

February 19, 2010
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It's been a while since there has been time to prepare and send out another update. This is just the reality of trying to keep a marginally funded project going during the peak of the season. At the end of 2009 the update series was focusing on a different section of the website in each issue. That will be continued here with the Incidents section, after a few brief offers and announcements.

There are many tasks that create diversions every time an update is on the verge of being prepared. One of these is updating the budget each month. As of February 1 we have really only reached about a third of what a normal budget is. At the moment the average contribution amount is above average but the number of contributors is low. So the resources you use and appreciate are currently being supported by a smaller number of generous supporters. If you do use the site, and if you support avalanche safety, we need your help. Please consider a membership contribution or purchasing your equipment through our store. And tell your friends also.

Potential ABS Deals

At the winter Outdoor Retailer show we found that we may be able to offer some special deals on ABS (Avalanche Balloon System) packs. Orders will need to be received ASAP. We may be able to offer a late season deal on this years model of BCA Float 30 packs also, but this is not yet clear. In both cases we hope to order some extras now for next season when the pricing goes up, which will mean a larger margin for us. But we cannot afford to have too much money tied up in this type of inventory all summer, and passing some savings on to our supporters now helps us out.

If you want more information contact us. These products are not listed in our store at this time, and availability limits are not known. Priority will go to members, as usual, but beyond that it's probably first-come first-serve. Any deals we are able to offer will be good in the US only. Allow some time for a response - we need to work out details, we'll try to prepare one email for everyone interested, and as you can tell by these sporadic updates things go slowly sometimes.

Avalanche Institute

This has been consuming a lot of time for the past 3-4 years and has been mentioned in past updates. Our hope was to fully roll out our Level 1 course this season, but there was not time early in the year to get a lot of the details and logistics ironed out and to get the promotion started. However, the Level 1 course is actually available and we continue to serve a limited number of students. We do have field days available in California and Oregon, with enough lead time to do the prerequisite online work.

There has turned out to be a lot of odds and ends left to do, and the work being done on this right now will mean that next years roll-out will be that much better. One of the time consuming tasks has been creating the detailed information available for each module of the course. This is almost, but not quite, complete. For each module there is a description, objectives, an outline, and more. There is a link under Announcements on the main Avalanche Institute page, or you can go directly to:
http://www.avalanche-center.org/institute/level1/ . Since all of the classroom material is presented online without time constraints the material as posted is covered entirely and uniformly for all students - nobody will cover a subset as a result of any trade offs.

The name "Avalanche Institute" was coined about four years ago when work first began. We chose the term to imply that a wide range of topics and material would be available, and we have material other than Level 1 modules under development. This wide ranging effort also represents an entirely new approach. It seems that others have already tried to jump on bandwagon, at least in name, and there is at least one other Avalanche Institute we know of so far. Imitation may be flattery, but don't be fooled by people using this title for the same traditional programs they have always run. We are not affiliated with any such operations, and our approach is as new and ground breaking as the website was 15 years ago.

Incidents Section

This is the website section reviewed and highlighted in this update.

Archiving avalanche incidents was one of the first endeavors of the project, so we have records going back to 1995. This includes incidents of all types from all over the world. All fatalities in the US and Canada are included for all of these years. For other countries the information was not always easily found (or submitted) in the earlier years. Recent seasons are complete for fatalities in Switzerland, France and Slovenia at least, and perhaps others we cannot completely verify. All of the reports since October 1998 are in a database which can be searched, sorted and filtered by various criteria. To take full advantage of this you need to be a member, but a certain amount of database searching can be done by anyone. The earliest three seasons have never yet made it into the database, and during any current season it takes a while to get them entered. For this season no reports are in the database yet.

Incidents are added to the main section page as the reports are archived. These are not chronological, they are added to the top of the table as they are filed. The main page also has current totals for reports and fatalities for the season, as well as the number of database entries. As of tonight we have 55 reports and 167 fatalities, but this is not up to date. The most recent additions were this years reports for Slovenia, but while that was being done (along with numerous other tasks) there have been several more in North America that will be added shortly. Our database has 1520 reports in it, and if the ones not added yet (earliest seasons, this season, and a few others) we have approximately 1900 reports on our system.

There are two ways to keep relatively current on what is added to this section. One is an email list available to members, the other is an RSS feed. Whenever material is added we send a notice to the email list. Well, most of the time anyway. If it gets too busy this may not happen once in a while. This is particularly useful when information is added after the fact by quite a bit of time, and a lot of the more accurate information falls into this category. The emails also contain brief commentary in many cases, and recently links to video for some reports. We do not archive video (but do include photos for many reports). So members are notified of video we are aware of via this list. The RSS feed is ideally updated whenever a new file is added, but not when an existing one is updated. In reality, though, the feed is often not up to date at all due to the pace of updates and the time involved. The totals for the season are kept up better than individual additions.

This is a truly unique resource, and posting 1900 reports as well as getting most of them into a database represents a huge investment of time. Since there is no support for this from any entity in industry, government, or the profession we have made it largely a members resource. Membership is required to read the report files, fully utilize the search features, and join the email updates list.

Most material we have archived is public, and with the advent of search engines like google news and its historical archive searches anyone could find it. Given the time and motivation. On a forum a while ago a guy wanted to discuss an incident in Canada and complained that our archives require membership. That information is public and he could have found it by doing some online research and/or contacting the right people in Canada. But he didn't want to invest the time to do that, and he also didn't want to contribute to us to support the time we spend doing that. So if you're really opposed to contributing and becoming a member and you want the incident information it is possible to find most it, you just need to invest your time instead of contributing to us. People who don't want to do either have no basis to complain.

There is some information that is either exclusive to our archives or difficult to find. The most noteworthy is information submitted to us. We have complete information for Slovenia for recent years, submitted via email from Ljubljana. We also have some information from Russia that comes from links sent to us from Moscow that do not turn up readily on normal searches.

This section is quite extensive and unique, and we hope people will find it interesting and/or useful. It has been used as one source of information in a number of published studies. Hopefully this update gives you an idea of what is there and what is involved in providing and maintaining this.

Coming Up

There are still some major sections to review, and now that this update is out the others will hopefully follow soon. The new Avalanche Institute is overdue for a detailed review of its own. We also have the Current Conditions section, which may be significantly downsized to free up time for the Institute and archiving incidents. We have forums and a gallery, and participating in forums earns you forum dollars which you can apply to membership or institute fees without limit and to store purchases with some limitations. We also have an Education section, although it has taken a back seat to conditions and incidents in the past and is already somewhat dwarfed by the Institute educational initiative.


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Jim Frankenfield
Executive Director

Avalanche Center Info