Avalanche Center Home Update - October 20, 2010

An Update from the Avalanche Center

October 20, 2010
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  • Store News
  • Special Early Season Members Deal
  • Avalanche Institute Course
  • Current Quiz, Snowpack Climates

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This is the second newsletter of the season, and it's a bit different. First of all it follows the first by only about a week, in an effort to provide more frequent and regular communications. Secondly, it's light on project updates and has some educational content as well as news of special deals for supporters as well as members. And if you would like a free one month membership and a chance at a years membership be sure to read the entire newsletter.

Our work on the switch to a new format and service continues, and perhaps by the next issue we will be ready to move a small portion of our subscribers to the new system as a "beta" test. While it should be easier and more efficient in the longer run there turns out to be quite a bit of up-front effort to get it going. The entire evening today has been spent working on the new newsletter format as well as an automated weekly notification for students in courses or modules in the Avalanche Institute. There is good news for anyone else who still prefers text email though - it is expected to be an option in addition to the formatted html.

Of course we have to remind everyone that there are costs involved in providing our services that we need your help covering. Any amount helps. Please consider helping us with whatever contribution you can afford and justify. Remember that many of our past supporters are not currently employed, so if you are fortunate enough not to be among them please consider adding a few dollars on their behalf if you can. Many of them have done so in the past when they were able.

Avalanche Store

The store is now almost entirely up to date. All of the product lines we carry are complete now, and the information and pricing for each item is correct. Remember that we are required to display the suggested retail price on the website but will match any discount you find anywhere else - just ask.

One thing that is still not posted is are the airbag packs. We carry the ABS line and expect to have no problems adding the Backcountry Access pack since we have been an authorized distributor of their products for many years and have an account in excellent standing with them. Everything in this newsletter concerning discounts on products or courses includes airbag packs so just inquire if you're looking for one.

Please purchase your avalanche safety related equipment through us and encourage your friends to as well - we match anyone else's price and the proceeds come back to you in the form of public information and education services.

Special Members Deal

Now that the store is up to date we are ready to offer a special pre-season deal to members. Not a member? Don't worry, if you send an email with the right phrase we will give you a free one month membership and enter your email into a drawing for a full years membership. The one month membership will be valid during our members special. Keep reading.

When members log in and shop in the store they get free shipping and an automatic across the board discount which varies. We will set this to a rather generous percentage within the next week. This discount applies to everything. Not one item. Not one product line. Not one type of item such as beacons. Everything! Purchases will need to be made during the specified time period and items will be shipped so that you will receive them prior to the US Thanksgiving holiday. Beacon or airbag purchases will include a massive discount on our online Level 1 class. This is described below, but the discount will not usually apply to discounted items. In the members sale it will.

We cannot announce further details of specials like this to the general public so you'll need to be a member to get the bottom line. It's one more reason to contribute now if you have never been a member or if your membership has lapsed. If you have ever been a member you will receive the details, but you'll need to be a current member to take advantage of the deals.

Avalanche Institute Level I Course

The Avalanche Institute has existed rather quietly for 4-5 seasons now, and the online Level 1 course has been available for a few years now. Prior to that it was available to limited and select groups while it was under development. Last season we had hoped to promote it more and enroll more students but we lacked the resources, particularly the time. However, students have heard about either through either their own research or friends who have become familiar with it and we have been enrolling people last season, as well as this season already.

There have been many resources referred to by others as "online courses". These are not representative of our course in any manner. Most are resources which were developed at a great up front cost and tossed out there for people to use. This is fine and they serve a purpose, but they are not true courses. There is no instructor available to contact with questions or feedback, there is no mechanism for discussion between students and instructors, there is no recorded assessment as the student progresses, and there is rarely any constant updating of the content or logistics. Our educational platform includes all of these things. It is not a one-way attempt at transferring information, it is participatory and interactive.

In terms of content (as well as actual student feedback) you can find extensive details here:


We are not aware of any other program anywhere which provides such detailed objectives and outlines at all, let alone any which can guarantee will be covered entirely.

To help establish this better we are currently offering a special discount tied to our store. This is offered at our discretion and may be discontinued at any time. All purchases of beacons or airbags at full retail will include a 60% discount on enrollment in the Level 1 course. Upon successful completion another 20% will be refunded. We are doing it this way to discourage curiosity seekers and encourage serious students who will complete the course. Providing access to instructors, managing the student progress, and keeping the records requires a lot of time so we want to focus on those who are truly serious.

During the members pre-season special we are offering this deal on the beacon and airbag purchases, despite the discount from retail pricing. Yet another reason to become a current member, or enter the drawing for an annual membership and get a one month one in the process. For the free membership you need to send an email to us at snow@csac.org with the key phrase in the Subject line. (Not in the message body, in the subject. So it is recognized right away.)

The "Current Quiz" - Snowpack Climates

We are still running the same current quiz a bit longer. We now have two people who have gotten 100%. In the next newsletter we will announce what scores will qualify for a monthly membership. This will still overlap with the fall special for members so this is another way to get in on that.

We receive results in the form of the overall score, but we do not get any details on which question(s) a person got right and certainly not on which answer(s) they selected. So the most common reasons for falling short of 100% are not really known. Feedback and questions are always welcome because they provide some insight on this. We did receive some feedback on a current question related to snowpack climates, so lets take a quick look at that here.

The differences between a maritime climate and snowpack and a continental one are quite pronounced, yet we have seen much confusion over this even after people take a class. Our online course highlights these differences throughout almost every module since they relate to everything from weather and terrain selection to planning and decision making.

The quiz question asks: "Which climate type will most often have density fluctuations due to multiple storms in rapid succession?" Like most or all questions this comes from our online course, but the context can admittedly be lost since this is just a quiz without any instruction preceding it.

Storms in rapid succession is a characteristic of a maritime climate. This type of climate is generally found close to oceans or other very large bodies of water, with the northwestern US being one of the best examples. Most storms in most places begin warm (with higher density snow) and end cold (with lower density snow). If one storm system follows another closely the result will be rapidly fluctuating densities in the upper layers of the snowpack.

In contrast, a continental climate is characterized by distinct storms separated be spells of cold and clear weather. The result on the ground is a shallower snowpack with very distinct layering throughout the winter. In many cases avalanche advisories will refer to layers in terms of the storm number or date. This is not at all common in a maritime climate.

It's very important to realize that these are general characteristics, not ones which will be observed at all times or to the same extent in all areas considered to have the same climate. It is very possible that you have observed clear spells between storms in a maritime area, or perhaps several storms in succession in a continental region. What you are observing is weather and not climate - weather is what you see out your window while climate is a long term average. And not all locations within a climate area are the same. The east slopes of the Cascade range can be very different from the western slopes even though it is all maritime climatically. (And of course not all storms begin warm and end cold, although this is most common.)

Hopefully this provides just a little bit of insight and clarity on the topic. It's important to understand this topic when traveling to a different area or planning a trip. Which is why our the course places such a significant emphasis on it across all modules. Questions, observations, and differing points of view are always welcome. The best place for this is our forums, and we will try to see that anything posted there receives a response. ( http://www.avalanche-center.org/phpBB2/ )

Well, it's now so late I found I almost forget the phrase you need. It's "alpha angle". Use this in the way the newsletter has described and we'll give you a one month membership and enter you in a drawing for a one year membership. (Current members will receive and extension of the appropriate length.) This is valid until the next newsletter. There isn't a firm date, but count on a week or so.

If the key phrase sparks some interest you can find more educational information on it in the glossary, or an avalanche blog (http://www.avalanche-blog.com/item/11/).

Coming Up

Watch for our new format soon. If you're a member, or ever have been, watch for a members email on the fall special within the next week some time. And there will be more on our auction coming up soon, there just wasn't anything new to report on that front this time around. Also coming up before too long: Snow! Some locations in VT apparently had a significant snowfall recently and the northwestern US has some heavy precipitation in the near term forecast.


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Jim Frankenfield
Executive Director

Avalanche Center Info