Avalanche Center Home Update - March 2, 2012


An Update from the Avalanche Center

http://www.avalanche-center.org/
March 2, 2012
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Red Cross Month Edition, Featuring:

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Introduction, From the Director

This is the eighth newsletter of the season. March 10-11 will be an Avalanche Awareness Weekend, and the second running of the auction will end on the 12th. So there is a lot of work in progress and we'll have a couple more updates over the next ten days as well. There will be a web page for Avalanche Awareness Weekend shortly, watch for that to be promoted on the home page when it is up.

This is our Red Cross Month edition. This is, unfortunately, quite appropriate at the moment given the recent rash of incidents. Avalanches are generally outside the scope of the Red Cross - in the general scheme of things disaster related there aren't very many fatalities. And those that do occur, at least in North America and Europe, are the result of people making a conscientious choice to venture into the backcountry. While recreation incidents are something backcountry users need to take responsibility for (personally and collectively) there are larger scale avalanche emergencies that are not uncommon in some parts of the world. The entries in our Incidents section include a cross section of global incidents from individuals recreating to homes, villages, and military outposts being demolished.

Our budget and accounting has been updated through February. Total February contributions came to $354.50, somewhat better than the $155 in January but still very low for mid season. We need your help to continue to provide awareness and education materials.

Auction and Avalanche Awareness Weekend

The auction is up and running through March 12, with buy-it-now options if you want something sooner. Most items are now posted for bidding, other than a few probes from the Avalanche Store and perhaps a few other odds and ends . Two "grand prizes" are about to be posted for a "sealed 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 will offer something else for all bidders whether or not they win.

We have been doing a bit of promotion on Facebook today and will be promoting it for the next ten days. Your 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 also helpful.

The weekend before the auction closes we are designating Avalanche Awareness weekend. We will have 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 still being decided. Watch for more on the home page. However, we will be offering much more for members as well as for anyone organizing or attending a local event. There should be some educational opportunities via various trials or discounts on some online course material. We don't have shirts right now and won't before the weekend, but we may be at a point where we can take orders for them at cost. If you have one of our shirts already wear it that weekend and post a photo, you might just get some kind of prize. Plus it's a good way to meet other supporters.

Miscellaneous Updates

While it has been all we can do to try to catch up on Incidents a few other things have been done on the website.

In the Education Section we deleted the course listings which have not been updated for the last few seasons. This is because few course providers were listing their courses anymore and maintaining the database has not been worth the time it takes. There is still a listing of online tutorials and a listing of course providers which includes those programs that were listing courses with us at one time. Their schedules and prices can be found on their own websites which we have links to. Alpine Skills International in particular had been contributing and listing courses regularly and inquired this season, but unfortunately they were the only ones left at this point.

While the course database has been discontinued we do hope to find new ways to continue working with interested partners to promote avalanche safety through combinations/partnerships of non-profit and private sector efforts.

We have also updated the News section with some additional stories. The most recently added are from 2012 but it hasn't been too long since we also added some remaining ones from 2011.

Incidents, Incidents, more Incidents

There have been very many incidents to add reports for over the past week or two. We are no doubt behind on what we even know about, and a lot of the information that we have collected is still being added and completed. There are advisories to post for many incidents, information that continues to become available later, and the linking and archiving that needs to be done.

The most recent US fatality was March 1 in California. Nothing is posted yet but should be soon. This is the 23rd for the season. The most recent five year average I can come up with quickly is 28.8 which is a few years old now. The highest appears to be 29 or so. There have been at least three seasons with 35 or more fatalities. So despite a lot of the media hype the US is at about average, or a bit below it but approaching it. What is concerning is that the rate of fatal incidents has been very high lately after a relatively (and surprisingly) slow early season. So we have a ways to go before we break any records but if things continue the way they've been going in the past week or two we may approach that point.

Many of the incidents this season seem to involve either very experienced people (or at the very least people with a Level 1 course background) or people making an effort to avoid avalanche terrain in the first place. In the case of the second category they have sometimes been caught in unusual places where it is not unreasonable to think an avalanche would be unlikely. In the case of the more experienced/educated users it seems like they often understand at some level how dangerous this years snowpack can be in many places but still feel they can manage the risk. In the conditions that exist in many locations this year it is better to count on planning trips to safe areas than to attempt to rely on routefinding in potentially unsafe areas, or on snowpits and snowpack tests.

It is common to see comments about how much experience it takes to use and interpret snowpits and snowpack tests. The ironic thing is that the most experienced people aren't relying on these things at all in some of the currently prevailing conditions. They are simply avoiding avalanche terrain entirely to begin with. It will be there in the spring, or in another season. Rather than thinking too much about snowpack details give some thought to the consequences of being wrong.

A few of the noteworthy incidents include:

  • Prince Frisco of the Netherlands was recovered after a long burial and remains in a coma after a couple weeks. He was just flown to London from Innsbruck, and it is still unknown whether he will ever wake up.
  • Yesterday an employee of the Warning Service in Salzburg was killed while doing field work. Few details are known right now and what we do know is not yet posted but should be in the next few days.
  • A young girl was killed while playing on a small slope in Austria. A cornice above the slope broke and she was buried. People were present and she couldn't have been buried long but she did die in this small slide. It sounds about the same scale as a roof avalanche.

As you can see from the above incidents this is an active avalanche season in many places, not just parts of the US.

Today as a few reports were added to the website they were posted on Facebook. Primarily on our page with a note on our profile referring to the page. We also have an email list available to members which is used, with varying reliability and frequency, to update subscribers on incidents being added.

Budget / Accounting Updated

On a brief closing note the financial disclosure pages have been updated after downloading our February transactions. The budget for this this season is up to date as of March 1, and the contribution history page is updated. This is never very interesting to anyone, myself (as director) included. But it's essential to our ability to continue any work that is publicly available.

On Tap ...

The next ten days will focus on Awareness Weekend, the auction, some new development in the Avalanche Institute (in addition to supporting current users), and the Incidents section. Watch for a couple newsletters between this one and the auction closing, and look for updates via our homepage and Facebook.

Please - consider a contribution, purchase you avalanche safety gear in our store, and consider topics in the Avalanche Institute as more becomes available. Avalanche Awareness weekend will have quite a bit more available to those who are members and those who initiate or attend anything local (no matter how simple or small).

Remember:

Jim Frankenfield
Executive Director


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