Avalanche Center Home Update - December 2, 2011

An Update from the Avalanche Center

December 2, 2011
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National Dice Day Edition, Featuring:

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Introduction, From the Director

This is still just the third newsletter of the season, so they have slipped back to being less frequent than they should. But it's just in time for National Dice Day on Saturday. When you go into the backcountry are you "rolling the dice", or are you working on reducing your reliance on luck?

There will be more frequent newsletters in the near future, for two reasons. One is that our annual auction is coming up and we always need to do as much as possible to promote this. The other is that I have been busy teaching a graduate engineering course, and while I enjoy this it has taken more time than I anticipated. The course is now essentially over so more time can go into the avalanche center. Some thoughts on teaching avalanche safety based on teaching academically appear below.

In other general news, our fall sale ended as scheduled on Nov 6. However, the members shopping cart automatic discount tends to be overlooked as far as updates and the sale discount is still set there. Until we get around to changing it. And our most recent Goodsearch check arrived, a whopping $22 for several months. This has always been somewhat disappointing. There are small local groups with obscure causes that have raised significant amounts but it just seems like avalanche safety doesn't attract supporters with the same passion for the cause. If you use the toolbar we get a penny or so for every search you do, and a percentage of many of your online purchases. I use the toolbar for much of my searching but still have the browsers search box as well for when I prefer to use Google. A penny isn't much by itself but it can add up to a lot if enough people use Goodsearch and designate us as the non-profit. You can get the toolbar here:

New decals are here, hopefully we'll do something about shirts in the coming weeks. The new ones are vinyl and should be better outdoors than our last batch, which was coated but not vinyl. Let us know if you want some and we'll send a few. We also sell them in packages of 100 in the store. If you are affiliated with a local relevant event we'll either send a batch or else some of our similar "bookmark" cards with the same appearance on both sides and no adhesive.

Thoughts on Education

Over the past 30 years I've taught university technical courses from time to time, at all levels. I have often thought about the parallels between teaching academically and teaching avalanche safety. The one thing that always stands out in my mind is the need, in either case, for the student to actively apply the course content themselves during the course.

I can make college algebra look easy on a blackboard and send all the students on their way thinking they can do it too, and perhaps feeling empowered with knowledge. Of course the ones that don't go apply the material while it's being covered and guidance is available fail on the test. And they certainly can't do any of it following the course.

Avalanche safety skills can't really be learned effectively by having somebody explain it to you, especially based on one set of conditions in one location. Students that learn this way and feel knowledgeable and/or empowered often do poorly in applying their skills in new and unfamiliar terrain and conditions. Hopefully they don't fail the test!

I hope this is something that both students and instructors can give some thought to. Feel free to share any thoughts or conclusions on our forums or on Facebook.

“Luck is not chance— It's Toil—Fortune's expensive smile Is earned—.” –Emily Dickinson


Although less time has been available to seek donations than in some past years things are shaping up reasonably well. In the last week or so we've been receiving items in the mail or commitments via email just about daily. We're up to 10 companies donating at the moment, in some cases more than one item. Things to be auctioned range from books to a custom snowboard and some nice MSR snowshoes. Two items that have been popular in the past that we have again are two Grand Shelters Igloo tools and a pair of 40below down booties. The list of companies and items is being kept current on the auction page now.

Bidding will begin on Dec 7th and last about a week. We have already been trying to use Facebook to promote it, both for donations and for participation. An event has been created and all of our friends have been invited. You can help by inviting your friends as well: http://www.facebook.com/events/140506909387050/


There have been two fatal incidents with one fatality each so far in North America. One in Canada and one in the US, both on November 13th, and it wasn't even a Friday. Both are posted in the Incidents section of the website.

The one in the US was in Utah and highlights a couple of early season concerns.

First, it occurred in a ski area which was not yet open and therefore had not performed any avalanche mitigation. People tend to be complacent in this situation and it's always a concern. The party involved did not carry avalanche safety gear, and it's likely that many of the other groups in the area did not either. Ski areas also tend to attract more people than the uncommercialized backcountry, even when they are closed. In this case there were many groups and some of them continued skiing upslope of rescuers, which potentially puts these folks at risk. Ski areas are backcountry until the perform avalanche mitigation and open.

Second, the nature of the snowpack is different in early season. It is usually sparse. Incidents can occur in pockets where snow has accumulated rather than on large open slopes with large slabs. The terrain a person is carried down often has very little snow as well. In this case the skier was carried down some steep rough terrain and suffered extensive trauma injuries. Safety gear actually would not have made a difference, but it's mentioned above because this is no reason not to carry it for a situation which may differ.

"Death and dice level all distinction." –Samuel Foote

Conditions and Email Lists

The advisory scripts have not been reviewed and updated yet. It's a bit late but some years it has been about this time when we got to it. Hopefully these systems will be functional for the season soon.

At one time we distributed most advisories by email. In fact this was a major attraction for contributors. It was one of many things we've done which was ground breaking at the time. Today it's of much less interest and something even sites by internet luddites can offer. It's not longer unique and has lost it's appeal over time. We have actually terminated most of the lists because there just wasn't enough interest in them. They create the potential for abuse and security lapses, although such problems were rare. The time spent is also needed for other things. As contributions have diminished the store has become a more important source of funding, and that requires quite a bit of time. On the content front we would like to be able to concentrate more on education.

We have still run the email lists for the Northwest and for the Eastern Sierra through last season. No determination has been made as far as continuing that service. It depends mostly on how many members continue to use it, with the amount of trouble involved for a particular advisory being a secondary factor. If you're on either of these lists you will probably receive email concerning them shortly.

Store Updates

The G3 and Pieps product lines have been updated. Changes in these product lines are described on the store blog.

Ortovox products all show the correct pricing and discontinued items have been removed. Most products have not changed appreciably but a few have and those need updated descriptions yet.

The ABS product line really needs to be updated. There are some significant changes and we have been getting inquiries and making a few sales lately. When this gets done there will be a blog entry covering it.

Social Media

Be sure to look for us and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We have a Facebook Profile with about 1218 friends and a Facebook Page with just over 60 followers. Obviously we need to promote the page more, but it's already up from the last newsletter. And 9 people are "talking about it". Whatever that means it sounds good. We are also on Twitter.

Other Stuff

Our Facebook Profile has about 1300 friends and our Facebook Page with 69 followers. On Twitter we have a few followers but so far we are not using that for very much. We announce items posted on ebay there and new newsletters. Perhaps for the auction we'll use it more.

So if you're read this far you can try to answer our trivia question(s). We'll send a few decals to anyone who gets it correct. This would be a good regular or frequent feature so if you have any suggestions for questions let us know.

The worst avalanche disaster in both the US and Canada happened in the same year. What year was it? Where did each one occur? And, for a few bonus decals, how many people died in each of them? Send your answers to snow@csac.org


And have a happy National Dice Day!

. “When Fortune flatters, she does it to betray.” –Publilius Syrus

Jim Frankenfield
Executive Director

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