Avalanche Center Home Update - February 24, 2012

An Update from the Avalanche Center

February 24, 2012
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Chili and Tortilla Day Edition, Featuring:

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Introduction, From the Director

This is the seventh newsletter of the season. It is overdue and finding the time to get this out as well as getting everything else done is tough. March 10-11 will be an Avalanche Awareness Weekend, and the second running of the auction will end on the 12th. So over the next two weeks there should be several short newsletters to promote these things.

This is our National Chili Day and National Tortilla Day edition. (They are two different things but it seems logical to combine them.) In addition, yesterday was my birthday. I really don't do anything to acknowledge this but contributions to the Avalanche Center would be an appreciated gesture. Rogue Breweries deserves the equivalent of a membership for their free beer and t-shirts. (And in recognition of all the Avalanche Dogs and their handlers I should also point out that yesterday was International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day.)

Total January contributions came to $155. And this is the peak of the season. Although there were few newsletters or updates last month, and the members that did contribute probably did so mostly after the the last one on Jan 20. Fortunately people were more generous earlier in the season but we are entirely a grassroots operation and do rely heavily on donations. As well as the annual auction, which we are running again until March 12 after low participation in December. Our work is currently being propped up by store sales that are not record breaking but not too bad, but that means a lot of time needs to go into that. So please consider making a contribution today! The accounting on the website was not updated with the January figures due to the time required to post that. We will update the web information after we do the February accounting.

Auction 2 - Until March 12, 2012

The December auction had very low participation so we have items left (or unpaid, in a couple cases) and we are running it again. (We had lots of visits to the auction, but not much actual bidding.) This time it will run over the next couple weeks so we can promote it throughout that time. Most items are now posted for bidding. Avalanche Store items are one exception, a few probes and shovels and such will be added soon. Two "grand prizes" are the other exception and those may be done via an email closed bid approach, either entirely or until the last few days. These items are a custom snowboard you can design yourself and a pair of high-end snowshoes including removable tails that can be added or removed to adjust flotation while wearing the shoes. Winning bids include a one year membership (or extension), and we may offer something else for all bidders whether or not they win.

Just about everything has a buy-it-now option in case somebody wants something sooner than March 12 (plus shipping time) since it is late mid-season now. Items may also have reserve prices but unlike ebay where that is a firm minimum it means we may or may not decide to release an item for a high bid below that.

We will be promoting this over the next two weeks and help is always appreciated. On the bidding page for each item is a link to send it to somebody else you know who might be interested in the item. And getting the word out through forums and clubs is always helpful.

Awareness Weekend March 10-11, 2012

The weekend before the auction closes we are designating Avalanche Awareness weekend. Like everything we do the idea is to facilitate activities driven by individuals wherever they are. We want to help people take responsibility for their own safety in the backcountry, we don't believe it is up to us or any other organization.

We will have a few things available through the website but we encourage you to create an event locally. All you need to do is designate a place and time and let people know. It could be a small get-together at a local pub or pizza place to talk about avalanche safety and meet some other avalanche center supporters. Let us know and we will list it and create an event on Facebook that we can promote, and you can also promote it as part of something broader locally or via forums you participate in as well as making your own Facebook page and/or event.

If you're part of a ski patrol, guide service, or some other organization consider having some kind of open house or presentation. Something with a local avalanche dog, an on-the-snow demonstration/discussion of the layered nature of snowpacks, or an informal apres-ski/climb social gathering. If you have any connection to a local shop see about having somebody local give a presentation. (Skiing and Climbing shops are often very happy to accommodate things like this since it's a combination of public service and getting people into the store.)

What we will do here is yet to be determined. We will be happy to send out decals and bookmarks for any events reported to us. Unfortunately we are still in the early phase of new shirts and can't have any ready by then. Maybe next year. We are hoping to have some kind of open-house with the Avalanche Institute, perhaps a new awareness short course if there is time to get it finalized. A store sale and something related to memberships are also possibilities. We may also offer some kind of benefit for anyone who attends scheduled events or get-togethers listed with us.

Early next week we may have more of an update on this. Let us know if you have anything to list, even a small gathering of a few people that others are welcome to join as well.

Incidents and News Sections

Getting the Incidents section up to date has been taking a lot of time over the past week or two. A week ago, or perhaps a bit more, it was mostly caught up. Then all of a sudden there were numerous new incidents and also some not so new ones that just turned up. At the moment everything we have in the system is online but during this process there have no doubt been additional reports. The most recently added incidents are in the table on the main Incidents page. Some of them are incomplete in terms of content (which is open to members) and the relevant advisory (open to anyone). Those are being archived and added now. Once that is done they will be moved into the database.

A week or so ago almost everything had been put into the searchable database. There are now over 1700 incidents archived that can be searched and sorted by country, date, activity, number of fatalities, etc.

The totals for the season as far as reports in our system is 41 reports with 82+ fatalities. Most recreational incidents these days seem to involve 1 or maybe 2 deaths. This may be an indication that people are being good about exposing only one person at a time to the identifiable danger. There are occasional exceptions, and these are not always due to poor risk management. Sometimes the unexpected happens. A recent incident in Stevens Pass, Washington involved a group of about 12. The avalanche caught 4 and 3 of those died. This was a group that included some very experienced people and they were doing their best to go one at a time and follow other precautions. They also had appropriate safety gear. The reason for 82+ fatalities is that we include anything we have enough information on from anywhere in the world. The Balkans recently had massive snowfall and 10 people were killed in two homes in a village in Kosovo. There are probably more incidents from the heavy snowfall that we are unaware of. We also have at least one incident in Afghanistan with 30+ fatalities, also in villages.

Now that flotation packs are starting to become more common in North America they are beginning to show up in incident reports. While I don't think any firm conclusions can be drawn yet there does seem to be a limitation that is more common than in Europe. This is the higher exposure to treed slopes and terrain traps. We know that more fatalities are due to trauma in North America than in Europe, presumably due to below-treeline travel being more common. In at least one incident the victim had a flotation pack and deployed it but it was damaged during the avalanche. In other cases they are clearly saving a life. Like any other type of safety gear these packs are a last defense and not something to bet your life on.

Along with incident reports we also end up with related stories for the News section. It has only been kept up sporadically the last couple years but stories were recently added there as well.

On Tap ...

In the short term the next few weeks will focus on Awareness Weekend, the auction, some new development in the Avalanche Institute (in addition to supporting current users), and the Incidents section. We also still need to get back to the quizzes that were available last season and the recent newsletter trivia questions. This is long overdue but there simply hasn't been time for it yet this year.

Longer term possibilities, perhaps for next season or beyond, include better programming for the membership parts of the site (as well as other login areas such as forums, the auction, and the Institute, which ideally would all be integrated), upgrading of the conditions section, and new modules and courses for the Avalanche Institute. Some progress on some of these may come soon but for the most part they are longer term projects. Some would benefit greatly from hiring a contract programmer but we don't have the funds for that. This can be done cheaply in today's global economy but our few past efforts were not very successful. They didn't end up costing us anything but work either didn't get done before they drifted off to bigger projects or was only experimented with in a limited capacity with no resolution to the problem.

Remember that what we can do in either the short term or long term relies on user support. So please consider a contribution, purchase you avalanche safety gear in our store, and consider topics in the Avalanche Institute as more becomes available.


Jim Frankenfield
Executive Director

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