Avalanche Center Home Update - December 29, 2011

An Update from the Avalanche Center

December 29, 2011
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New Year's Edition, Featuring:

  • Auction Summary and Store Update
  • Membership Features and Database
  • Incidents and News Sections
  • Conditions Information
  • Social Media, Trivia Question, Etc.

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Introduction, From the Director

This fifth newsletter of the season is the last for 2011. We are down to the last few days of the calendar, and tax, year. Remember that if you want to donate to avalanche safety and take a tax deduction in 2011 you need to act quickly. You can donate with a credit card, probably right up to midnight Saturday as long as your bank clears transactions immediately. You can also mail a check before your post office closes on Saturday so the postmark is 2011. Some banks are telling customers that transactions after Friday afternoon will go on the 2012 records, although this shouldn't matter if you get the postmark in time or use a credit card. This is based in part on our End of Year Tip page, as well as the Five Tax-Saving Principles page. We are not accountants or tax collectors though so always verify any advice or suggestions like this.

While the end of the tax year was a primary motivation for getting this newsletter out now (and it's already a couple days late) there are plenty of other things to report as well. And the answer to the past trivia question is at the end this time as well.

Auction and Store

The auction was very disappointing this year. We had more traffic, thanks in part to the use of social media, but very little bidding. Items that were won tended to go for low amounts and we have numerous things left. We will have to have another round in January sometime. We still have a custom snowboard, some very nice snowshoes, one igloo tool (these have always reached close to retail value in the past), and a pair of 40 below booties (which have also been popular in the past). The auction helps a lot with our budget and donations of items were generous this year so hopefully a second auction will go better. It's impossible to be certain about the reasons for it being slow but many large retail outlets both online and off were offering huge discounts on everything this fall. (There may be reports of increased sales, but with slim or negative margins it's not an increase in profit.) It also had not been very wintry in much of the world through the auction time.

The only store news is that we are overstocked on Tracker 2 beacons due to an ordering error. (A quantity of these were ordered instead of the DTS which is what we actually needed.) We use ebay auctions to help move excess items, as well as promote the site and attract customers, but we also make deals via email. On anything. But at the moment we will be glad to move some of our Tracker 2 beacons, up to a half dozen or so. There is an email list for members to be notified of store deals and member specials which is not used much, that is a good way to find out about potential opportunities like this. More on our email lists, memberships, and a general clean-up of the records follows.

If you have had a positive experience with our store, which the vast majority of customers have, you can help us out by posting a review on a site such as Yelp, Bizrate, etc.

Membership Features and Database

As part of some accounting catch-up for this season the members file, lists, and database are being cleaned up. To become a member for one year you need to either contribute $35 or more or make a store purchase with a checkout value over $100. Our record keeping is piecemeal, and without more resources there is no way around this. But it works for the most part.

Our text file with email addresses and dates was manually checked for everything this season (since Oct 1) and if you've contributed or made a qualifying purchase should be in the system. When we are contacted about a problem it can usually be corrected within 24 hours. There are three members email lists - one for incident updates, one for store specials, and one for all members. The incidents list was not used much last season but usually has provided updates every time we add reports. Most expired members addresses were removed from the first two lists. The list of all members is not used much and expired members have never been removed since updates may be of enough interest for them to renew. This will be updated to only current members sometime soon also.

Members can set up a website account to access the actual incident reports, perform unrestricted searches on the incident database, register for online courses or modules at a discount, and more. The database for this will be cleaned up shortly. Over time some programming issues have cropped up and hopefully those will be corrected sometime soon. If you have had an account in the past that expired and you now become a member again you may need to try logging in twice, once to update the data and a second time for success. This is one of the current quirks of the system.

Finally, members are recorded by email address. Let us know if your address changes or if you use more than one address and we can take care of those things manually.

There are plenty of things like accounting and programming that take up time behind the scenes that many people don't think about or appreciate. But the content is currently being updated as well, as the rest of the newsletter indicates.

Incidents and News Sections

There are still only two fatalities in North America. We just posted information on the second and third fatalities in Switzerland. We also added a brief report on a military fatality in Kashmir and an incident in Austria. A hiker died in the UK in December when he and a woman walked out too far on a cornice during poor visibility. It's not entirely clear what role any avalanche following the cornice fall played and therefore whether this was truly an avalanche fatality. The media sometimes used the term rather loosely, and in some cases the classification is debatable as well. Additional information and reports are still turning up and if you want to keep up to date on additions to the database or to individual reports you can join our incidents list as long as you are a member.

The News section fell behind last season but there are numerous articles ready to post now, including some from last season still. It is a matter of formatting and linking them at the moment. We have a total of 7 from last year and five from 2011 at this time. News stories often come to our attention in the process of locating incident information. While the members incident email list is not specifically for updates on the News section it has sometimes been used for this, with a single update mentioning both.

The News section and the Incidents section both have rss feeds, but both are updated manually when the section is updated. When things are too busy this does not always happen but lately they have been updated in many cases.


As a result of the work involved in the auction (and most recently the accounting and records), as well as the slow dry start to winter in so many places, the conditions section and lists are just now being updated and implemented. At one time this was one of the most important services we offered since we were the only ones who knew how to post anything on the internet, or even what it was! That was a long time ago and now we try to maintain a central resource so that information for anywhere can be found by starting here, but locals usually go directly to their local source these days.

We terminated most email lists due to a lack of interest and support. We still offer email delivery for the NW US bulletins and the Eastern Sierra (CA) bulletins but may terminate those as well if interest drops any more this season. The NW list is in the process of going into service now. The Eastern Sierra center does not appear to be issuing anything yet, probably due to a lack of snow. We maintained lists for the Swiss information from the SLF for a long time but it stopped showing up one day and despite a large subscribership there was little financial support so those ended as well. We did talk to the SLF about any interest they may have had in taking over the service, but at least at that time they felt it was an unnecessary addition to their many other means of distributing the information.

Many areas in the US have a very thin snowpack right now, which may lead to dangerous conditions if a significant storm loads it. Some aspects are bare, or so thin that anchors still protrude enough to be effective. In other more shaded areas the current surface consists of sugary facetted grains which become a very weak and persistent layer once buried. And in some areas the current surface may be icy. None of these conditions are very good when they are loaded and the best approach is just to avoid being on or below avalanche prone terrain. Snowpits can be very educational in these conditions but are not a reliable means of assessing an entire slope when there is a known possibility of these weak layers.

Social Media

Remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We have a Facebook Profile with about 1350 friends, up more than 100 since our last newsletter. Our Facebook Page with just over 124 followers. Remember that clicking "Like" on our posts, sharing posts via us (ours or others), and inviting friends to Like our page all help convince Facebook that we are worthy of more exposure. If you are "subscribed" to our profile we recommend making sure you set it for "all updates", we don't post a flood of stuff. The problem with "most" and "only important" is that Facebook decides which fall in that category. It's possible for friends to seemingly disappear entirely because they post infrequently and nothing is deemed important by Facebook.

We recently stumbled across an add-on for Dreamweaver which would let us design tabs and app's for our page which would be very helpful, so there may be some progress there sometime soon. But while the ability to create these is a step forward we still need to come up with some kind of plan for what to create and how to use it.

Final Stuff, Trivia Quiz

As soon as December is over we can complete the accounting through this month and then we can post updated budget information for this season. It seems pointless to spend time posting it through November when we can include December so soon. Work on the members resources and systems will also continue.

There was going to be some information on Education resources and the Avalanche Institute but this edition is long enough and there is nothing new to report. There has been interest and questions about this via email but by the next issue we will hopefully have some things updated and be better able to address this topic.

Now that you've read this far you've reached our trivia question(s) section. For the past few issues the question has been:

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?

Congratulations to Doug Spilman for getting this almost entirely correct. Nobody got it wrong since nobody else attempted to answer it! The disasters where in 1910 in Wellington, WA (Stevens Pass) and in Rogers Pass in BC. Both were railroad disasters. In WA 96 people died, in BC 62 died. (Doug answered 58, which was the original count. Four more were discovered when the snow melted.)

Here is a new trivia question:

What is an avalanche beta angle and what is it useful for?

We'll send a few decals to anyone who gets it correct. Send your answers to snow@csac.org

And if you have any suggestions for future questions let us know. It can be hard to come up with something suitable quickly when the immediate goal is to get a newsletter out.

Have a happy, safe and fun New Year!


Jim Frankenfield
Executive Director

Avalanche Center Info


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