Avalanche Center Home Update - January 14, 2011

A Holiday Update from the Avalanche Center

January 14, 2011
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  • Website Updates - Incidents, Forums
  • Avalanche Institute Update
  • New Current Quiz
  • Getting Involved

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This is the eighth newsletter of the season, and the first of 2011. So far we are doing better at communicating more often than in past seasons, and hopefully the new format and delivery service is working well for everyone.

This issue was going to have more emphasis on avalanche education, but preparing these takes time and that is in short supply with a lot of other work to get done. (This is why updates were even more sparse in past years.) Hopefully that article will be ready for the next issue.

For now there are some updates on the website. Including the forums, where we offer forum dollars. We create these out of thin air - it's our own Quantitative Easing program. The short term schedule for the online course program is updated. There is a new current quiz and that is described, along with some final stats from the terrain quiz. And some thoughts on how people can get involved and help out wrap things up.

The budget through December is still being sorted out, it's one of many things that require some time. But support continues to be low. Reviving the auction improves things a bit over the past few years. Last season we had the lowest number of contributors ever, which was somewhat offset by having the highest average amount ever.

We'd like to thank those that make a donation each year, of any amount. Thanking each donor is not a strong point. At one time, long ago, we did that. But our budget and our resources have shrunk and most of our supporters do prefer to see efforts go into the project directly.

It's very hard to get support for avalanche safety from anyone other than those who use it. And the government. In the US, at least, the government is coming to the realization that it is far beyond broke and may be cutting back drastically on many things before long. If avalanche safety and information is important to you please support it. Contributions to this project go directly to cover overhead expenses, not salaries. (In some organizations fund raising has been used not only for salaries but personal equipment such as skis. And in one case a request was submitted for not only full reimbursement for a conference but salary money for the time spent there - an amount equivalent to a large chunk our entire annual budget. It pays to look into what your contributions are used for.) Any questions or feedback on our budget are welcome on our forums.

The Goodsearch toolbar still appears to be underutilized, although transactions take time to show up. To support avalanche information at no cost to yourself go directly to the toolbar page or get more information here: http://www.avalanche-center.org/Organization/contribute/goodshop.php

If you use ebay and go there via the goodsearch toolbar we get at least 25% of what you spend. This doesn't come out of your pocket, it comes from ebay. They can afford it. It is also now possible to designate a percentage of your selling price to us: https://www.charity.ebay.com/charity/Cyberspace-Snow-and-Avalanche-Center/42453

Website Updates - Incidents, Forums

Two sections of the website that have had some work done on them recently are the Incidents section and the Forums.

Last seasons incidents are still not entirely caught up, but all fatalities in the US and Canada are now included. These are all in the database so it's possible to include last season in searches by activity, location, etc. We are still working on getting other countries completed.

A quick database search shows that there were 36 fatalities from 32 incidents in the US last season. In Canada there were 12 fatalities from 10 incidents. A total of 95 incident reports from around the world were filed, although this is not yet a final figure.

The current seasons incidents are now being updated. These also include all fatalities in the US and Canada so far. These are not in the database but are on the main incidents page in the table. We have 9 reports that include 12 fatalities posted for the season. Six are from the US and one is from Canada. (The only report with multiple fatalities posted so far is from Japan, where four ski patrollers were killed in a single incident.)

Our database now has 1607 reports filed in it, beginning in the 1998-99 season. One of the benefits of membership is complete access to this unique resource. Another is access to the actual incident report files. Non-members can only view listings and use only limited search features.

In the forums it has been necessary to cease allowing new registrations. Guest posting is still allowed, and existing accounts are still valid. Members are still registered automatically when they create a website account.

There has been relentless registration spam for a while. Requiring approval creates tons of email for these junk accounts. Cleaning them out takes time, although there is a utility that helps. It turns out that the guest posting is easier to manage than registrations.

This means that in the future only members will be able to accrue forum dollars. You get these whenever you post in the forums, and you can use them for anything within the avalanche center. They are valid for memberships (and renewals), store credit, course credit, and anything else. It's our own form of Quantitative Easing - if the fed can create money why can't we?

Our intent has always been to allow anyone to register and to accrue this newly created cash. It is being limited to members at this time for spam reasons and not any preferred policy on our part.

It would be nice to see more use of the forums. However, there are several websites with avalanche forums and none of them see a great deal of use. The discussions that are there tend to be of poor quality more often than not, in terms of relevance and sometimes accuracy. So there just seems to be little interest in general.

Avalanche Institute

The next field days available for the online avalanche course will be in Utah anytime they are requested between Jan 18-31. Anyone who meets the prerequisites can request any of these days for either field day, at no cost. In February and March there will be at least one more opportunity in California and several in Oregon. We are working on getting something in place in Colorado. Other than those locations it depends on course registrations.

Aside from taking the course it is possible to meet the prerequisites by challenging the modules. The cost of challenges is currently being waived for anyone who has taken any Level 1 course within the past two years. For those considering the full course remember that for some limited but not yet determined length of time a course discount of up to 80% accompanies all beacon and airbag pack purchases.

It is important to register for the online work (or attempt any challenges) far enough in advance of the field days. It's possible to complete this very quickly but most people prefer to have a minimum of a full week.This isn't some tutorial you blast through online in one sitting, it's a very robust course. It covers a lot, covers it thoroughly and completely, and takes some time. Most students don't work on the course every day, and most prefer to work for a limited amount of time per session. This is one of the major benefits - students absorb the material better when they can work at their own pace and on their own schedule. Many students also hit an assessment or two they don't pass the first time, which requires a bit of time to go back through that topic.

We are still working on the first two advanced modules. One will cover Persistent Weak Layers (PWL) in detail. This will require, for prerequisites, credit for the Snowpack 1 and 2 modules and the Weather 1 module from the Level 1 course. The other one will be on Stability Tests and will require the Snowpack 1 and 2 modules.

There are still few people who meet these prerequisites so the Level 1 modules remain a priority, but these advanced topics will be ready by the time there are interested and prepared students. For those that do not wish to take the complete Level 1, and won't or can't challenge the prerequisite modules successfully, there will be some kind of "package deal" including the prerequisites as well as the module(s).

We have mentioned previously that the term "Avalanche Institute" was selected years ago to reflect the potential to offer a broad array of topics at all levels. While others have co-opted the name they are not offering advanced material on a par with these upcoming modules. Don't be mislead by the use of a similar title.

New "Current Quiz"

A new current quiz has been posted. This one is more advanced and covers snowpack profiles. The five questions on this quiz are taken directly or nearly directly from the Snowpack 2 Module (#8) in our online avalanche course. While the primary topic is snow profiles you do also need to know something about metamorphism terminology (which we also cover in module 8) and to understand the difference in snowpack climates which was discussed in our first few newsletters of this season.

Most quality traditional courses have eliminated this somewhat more technical content in order to give adequate coverage to the basics. The ability to reintroduce it is one of the benefits of the online approach with its lack of rigid time constraints.

This quiz has only five questions so the same ones come up each time. They are weighted, and this is our first use of this feature. So the questions are not all worth the same amount.

Originally the new quiz was going to be a matching type, but formatting that type to fit into a standard web page proved too difficult. It works fine within our courseware, but not in a stand-alone page. Hopefully we can use this format in the future. (See the final section on how to get involved and help out  if you are particularly good with css.)

The final results for the Terrain quiz were an average of 86.8% and a median of 89.5%. A perfect score was obtained by 19.6% of those that took it. The average and median have not changed much from the preliminary results in past newsletters, the percent getting a perfect score continued its downward trend.

The questions on the terrain quiz were taken directly or nearly directly from the Terrain Module (#6) in our online avalanche course.

Getting Involved

It would be nice to decentralize some aspects of our avalanche awareness efforts. We can provide a lot of background support here for efforts anyone wants to make locally. There is no clear vision or requirement here, just an opportunity to be a representative of the avalanche center and promote avalanche safety in your own community. It could be through gatherings, events like beacon practice sessions, distributing materials locally, arranging presentations, etc. What works in one community may not in another, and what one person wants to do may differ from what another wants to do. So it's all very flexible in recognition of this.

It's currently difficult to get involved in such efforts. In the US if you live near a Forest Service avalanche center they always want help. But it's generally for fundraising. While we would welcome even small events that raise anything at all that is not our primary reason for involving people. It's to support local efforts and networking related to avalanches, and to support anyone who has a good idea on how to do that.

Every season we ask for help distributing bookmarks to promote the project. This year is no different. We now have bookmarks that are simpler, slicker, and more graphic than our old ones. Let us know if you can get some out in local shops, huts you visit, through clubs, etc. We'll send some off to you. (Currently these feature our skiing skeleton logo which has been highly successful for promotional purposes. However, we will also try to get some others printed before long that feature our more traditional logo.)

There seems to be growing interest in many local areas in "book clubs". We have been debating starting such an endeavor through the forums. At least for members. Whether it would focus on the basics covered in books or on more technical articles (or both) is an open question, depending on interest in each. This would be a moderated discussion with an article or book to serve as a focal point. Let us know your thoughts on this if you're interested. You can email us, or better yet use the forums. (If you're not sure where to post something in the forums don't worry about it, we can move it to the most suitable forum or topic if necessary.)

Finally, we could use some help with a few specific tasks. The current quiz system is not amenable to matching quizzes because of the formatting. Unless we abandon the uniform layout and appearance used throughout the site. If anyone is an expert in css and wants to take a look at this let us know. (The CSS stylesheet seems like the place to solve this, but there may be some other html solution as well.)

We are still waiting to hear more from the group that offered to help us with social media development. There was a webcast last week but nothing more yet. However, there will be a need for some help with graphics, copywriting, and FBML (Facebook Markup Language, for customizing pages). None of this is advanced or time consuming but a quick turn-around may be required. So if you can do any of these at a basic level and turn around a small request quickly let us know. We'll keep you informed as that effort progresses.

Final Notes

Even with somewhat more frequent updates there is always more that could be covered. The rest is left for another newsletter. Ideally this would be in about a week, but the annual Outdoor Retailing show may make it a couple weeks.

We're into the prime of the winter season now. Most avalanche incidents happen mid-winter. The early season snowpack can be very thin and dangerous, but the number of reports is never as large as mid winter. In a few more months we move into spring and the snowpack usually becomes more predictable and stable. Now is the time to be conscientious about your risk management, from planning through specific slope decisions. However, if you make good decisions you are confident in you can then enjoy the powder. Some information sources can be so negative that people are scared all the way down a great run. You're there to have fun, make good decisions up front and then enjoy yourself!


We are up to 707 friends on Facebook (about 29 more than we had as of the last newsletter). Are you one of them? If you are have you suggested us to any of your friends?

Jim Frankenfield
Executive Director

Avalanche Center Info


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