Avalanche Center Home Update - December 23, 2013

An Update from the Avalanche Center

December 23, 2013
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We hope that in the holiday spirit, and as part of your year-end charitable giving, you will support true grass roots non-profit avalanche safety resource. You can do this on our Home Page, or via our Contribute! page which offers more options.

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In this Update -

Introduction, From the Director

There are some changes underway at the avalanche center - some small and relatively routine and some larger and more significant. This is probably not the best time for a first update of the season but we hope you'll take a moment to at least skim our latest news on the project here.

One change is our email distribution service. In the interest of cutting every last unnecessary expense we have closed the mailchimp account which we were using. That was costing $25 per month. This is less than one membership, but we don't always get even one membership each month these days. And we have other expenses that are more important. We haven't been sending out many email updates (which is one reason we get less support than we used to). Rather than pay the monthly fee we will be trying out Mad Mimi, which is a free service that does have some affiliation with mailchimp. It should meet our meager needs better than Mailchimp which is oriented more towards email marketing.

Since we have not used our list in a long time we expect many bounces and this is unpopular with email services. Mailchimp made an issue out of this even though we were paying a fee, although it never created any problems. But to clean off the list and get started for this season we are reverting to our internal list server for this first update.

A bigger change is that I (the director, webmaster, etc) have found myself living in Tbilisi, Georgia these days. This was unplanned - my plan was to explore for the summer and in September I suddenly had three offers for part time teaching jobs. And I like Tbilisi, so I took on all three. This has required the arrangement of some help physically present back at the office in the US.

In the short term this has not left me much time to put into an unfunded avalanche center, although during a few periods in the past two months I have caught up on some tasks. While the three jobs turned out to be overwhelming, especially commuting from one end to the other of a lengthy city spread out along Mtkvari river, it has allowed me to choose which jobsare worth continuing. When school begins again in January I expect to have two jobs and consolidate the hours of one of them into two days rather than three. Hopefully this will allow me to get back to the avalanche center to some extent, as well as to ski in the Caucasus.

In the longer term this will require a bit of reorganization. Of both the avalanche center and of my life in general. Obviously I cannot fulfill store orders from Tbilisi, and store sales are currently the primary means of funding the resources we make available. During the summer the office rent was mostly covered by various sublets. As of a week or two ago we have somebody there to handle the store orders and other office tasks. We've reduced the amount of space required in order to cut the cost and Ryan will be there until June so that this season will be covered. He replied to a help-wanted posting but I already knew him as a senior in Civil Engineering at Oregon Tech and so far he has been reliable. Far more so than the guy subletting for summer. (We had no agreement for him to help out but he was getting a very good rent deal. When he did help out he consistently did things wrong, which led to extra expenses and problems that are just now being addressed.)

More about these and related changes will be shared in upcoming updates, as things continue to unfold.

Shirt Sale

We just updated our shirt sale for the holiday. By the time this email goes out it will be too late to get them by Christmas but we will be back in the office and mailing things again no later than December 29. The current price for short sleeve shirts is $12 per shirt with US shipping included. We have plenty of L and XL and a few M and S left.

For orders outside the US send us an email first about shipping. We get orders from people all over the world that don't inquire first and this presents a problem. We used to just ship the order and take a bit of a hit to the proceeds but with skyrocketing shipping costs we can no longer do this. It's also impossible for us to add charges to an existing transaction, as we've been asked to do at times. We have to send a separate invoice or the customer must send an additional payment. (This is an obvious security issue - letting a merchant just make unapproved additional transactions would not be safe in general.) So please inqure before ordering.


In the spring before I left for the Caucasus we managed to sell off all the remaining inventory we had, which was primarily probes. We are now selling entirely new items, with no specials on discontinued models. (What we sold off was new but some were current models and some were not.)

The store pages have been partially but not entirely checked and updated, so some information and pricing is not up to date. We have been filling a few orders though, primarily internationally lately. Due to the slow start to the season store sales are still limited. We just sent out our first ebay auctioned beacon yesterday.

Speaking of auctions, it was impossible to hold one this year for obvious reasons. I was in Tbilisi and overworked and Ryan had not yet started. But aside from the problem of not being able to invest a lot of time seeking items and setting it up we have also had low participation in recent years. It has offered some benefit for early promotion of avalanche safety, as well as a small kick-start to the seasons funding, but it has become less and less worthwhile. Participation by the outdoor industry has been generally good, but participation in the bidding by users has not been very high.

Finally, we have been including free tutorials and education with our safety products. There are two short tutorials on proper use, selection and care of probes and shovels in our Avalanche Institute and purchases of those items include access to the appropriate tutorial. Customers who purchase a beacon get access to three of the modules in our Level 1 course - see the next section for more on this.

Education - Avalanche Institute

We now have some ties between the Avalanche Institute and the store. There are two short tutorials on probes and on shovels which are free for anyone purchasing one or more of these items. Customers who purchase a beacon can also take our relevant Level 1 modules. These are Module 2 (Safe Travel and Equipment) and Module 3 (Rescue), as well as Module 1 which is a short general background prerequisite.

We have not promoted this benefit enough yet but it has been available and we are working on promoting it more. (If you purchased a beacon you are a member so you can register in the institute on your own. As long as you first register on the main avalanche center and then log in.)

All members can register themselves in the Avalanche Institute on their own. Once registered they can go through our probe and shovel tutorials as well as a Level 1 introductory module at no cost. There is now a screen-capture video demonstrating how members can register, login, and subscribe to the few free (mini-)courses. For most modules an administrator still needs to add users after registration and payment but this is easier and quicker if you already have an account. For non-members an admin will still need to create your account. (The video is linked to public home page.)

The tutorials on probes and shovels cover useful information that often gets lost in the rush of a full weekend course. These tutorials are too brief to be able to apply them towards any full modules or courses, but in addition to the educational value they also introduce the Dokeos platform we use, the type of structured learning path typically used, and how quizzes work.


The Incidents are far behind but a current task to be worked on. A couple weeks ago there were at least three we became aware of and those have been added, although the files may not be complete even now. Last years US incidents are being completed now, and the ones in the system should now be in the database for searches.

This is an area in which we have some catching up to do. We are working on it now that the budget reports and other end of season and new season tasks are done.

2012-2013 Budget

For the most part what there is to say about this was said at the top. If you'd like to have a look at our budget, both last seasons and historically, there are a few pages: the 2011-12 final summary, a historical overview, and a (rather discouraging) contribution history.

On Tap ...

The Avalanche Institute needs to be our primary current priority. So far during the early season we have had a lot of behind-the-scenes work to do. In addition to updating the store and fiscal information the website stats and logs needed to be rotated and archived. This is complete but always takes some time. Now that this is done the incidents need to brought up to date as well as some website work. This constant need to maintain ongoing things has made it diffult to put the time necessary into promoting and growing the educational resources. (We've offered courses, supported students in them, and receive excellent reviews and feedback. But not much has been done to grow the program.)

Even though labor has always been almost entirely donated the spectre of paying overhead costs is always there and the biggest thing that helps the project right now is to contribute. Especially during the holiday season and as part of any year-end charitable plans you may have. Purchasing your equipment from us helps a lot too and includes membership as well as access to educational material.


Jim Frankenfield
Executive Director

Avalanche Center Info