Avalanche Center Home Update - January 20, 2012

An Update from the Avalanche Center

January 20, 2012
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Introduction, From the Director

This sixth newsletter of the season is the first for 2012. It will be very brief, maintaining the site has taken a lot of time and with the final arrival of winter in full force it will be taking more time. The incidents were finally caught up and there is already one new US fatality to add.

In the course of updating our current budget details it became clear just how few contributions we've received in January, which is a month of peak use and usually of somewhat more generous support. Relying more on the store requires more time, which is time away from content and updates on the site. We rely heavily on user contributions - they are not supplements to government or grant funding, they are the primary funding source. While we would not turn down other sources of funding they are unlikely, and counting on user support is consistent with our philosophy that backcountry safety resources need to be supported by backcountry users. To those who have contributed we offer a big thanks on behalf of everyone who visits the site.

Please consider making a contribution today!

Updated Financial Disclosure Info

We have always tried to make public a complete summary of where our revenue is coming from and what it's used for. What we bring in barely covers the overhead costs of running the project, we have no payroll and no frills. The accounting and posting of these details can be incredibly tedious, but we want to be as transparent as possible.

This information was updated and posted for the first time this season last night. Details cover the season from October 1 through December, nothing from January is included yet. The 2011-12 budget summary is now available, as well as updated contribution history graphs. Compared to past seasons you will notice how few contributors we have, and while this is partly due to the fact that it's just mid-season it is low for this time of year. Hopefully this is partly a result of a lack of winter up to this point in many places.


One reason for working especially late to get this update out is the sudden change in conditions in much of the western US. It has been a very dry season so far. In southern Oregon the snowpack a few days ago was somewhere around 10% of normal, and California seems to be even drier. This has suddenly changed, particularly in the Northwest. The Eastern Sierra advisory still has not begun but the winter weather may start to reach that far south sometime soon.

The dry winter means there was a thin snowpack. And a thin snowpack is a weak snowpack, as anyone who has taken any kind of safety course knows. That thin weak snowpack is now getting loaded with heavy snow, which it will not support very well. In most areas it is a good time to be very conservative or even just stick to developed ski areas which perform avalanche mitigation.

The avalanche bulletin for the Salt Lake mountains today put it very succinctly: "But it's all academic. The bottom line is you can't get onto any steep slope that had preexisting weak snow and has received significant new snow and expect it to stay in place." This is rather refreshing given that some advisories are always trying to sound very academic and often miss the bottom line (as well as getting the academics wrong).

Obviously an excerpt from one advisory can't be applied everywhere, but their bottom line does reflect the general conditions in many areas right now, so check your local advisory. And remember that the planning stage of a trip is the best stage for avoiding problems (of all kinds). This is why most avalanche courses now emphasize trip planning so heavily.

The US advisories posted on our site are now working. Unfortunately there are many bad links on the main conditions page which need to be corrected. And even just located in some cases. This is on the list of things to do, but unlike the past we no longer receive much support from this part of the website.


The Incidents Section was almost up to date on fatalities a day or two ago. (Some incidents are partially added but not yet linked in.) Unfortunately with the current storm cycle there are bound to be more. Already there has been one in Colorado, although it sounds like a small avalanche and a terrain trap rather than a result of a lot of new snow. So far this season there are 16 incidents posted, mostly with one fatality although a couple have 2. This does not include the unlinked ones, such as a cycle in eastern Afghanistan with over 30 killed. Although that is not of direct interest to current recreation concerns.

Some of this years reports are already archived into the database. You can do some limited searching and sorting on the public interface but you need to be a member to take full advantage of the database as well as to access actual report pages. If you've made any purchase from us of $100 or more you are a member, or if you've contributed at least $35. The database has almost 1700 reports in it now.

Work Planned and in Progress

There has been other work going on that is not yet noticeable.

There are a growing number of stories in the News Section that are not linked and posted yet. The articles are there, they just need to be incorporated into the index pages.

A new format may be implemented for the Conditions section using maps. At this point there is still quite a bit of learning and trial/error work to do to incorporate Google maps in a constructive and useful way.

The programming that adds members to the login database and does things like password changes needs work. We've been aware of this for a while but it hasn't been high on the list and monitoring things manually is easier in the short term.

Hopefully by the next newsletter we will answer the last trivia quiz and get in touch with people we owe some decals to. The online quiz needs to be updated as well. So far the precipitation quiz that was reposted is still there. We need to figure out a prize of some kind for the best scores last season and contact those people. (Given the current precipitation the posted quiz might be worthwhile right now.) Education work in general is high on the list, it's just hard to get to after the day-to-day demands are met.

I'm sure there are more things that don't come immediately to mind as well, so you can see that there is plenty of work to be done. While the time and labor is donated it's hard to justify that investment when there is a lack of funding for the basic infrastructure, and a lot of the donated time and effort goes to the store these days in order to keep things running at all. So we really can use your help!


Jim Frankenfield
Executive Director

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