Avalanche Center Home Update - December 19, 2014

An Update from the Avalanche Center

December 19, 2014 
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Work on the website has continued and enough has been done to send out this update. The greatest improvement is in the Education Section with the quizzes. These are publicly available but there are a few extra features available to update subscribers and to members. This is detailed below following some other news.

We can still use plenty of help getting things back into order and moving forward so please remember us during this season. As a 501c3 organization donations to us are tax deductible, if you need to consider this as the end of the year approaches.

There have already been at least two fatal incidents in the US this season. In both cases there was a thin weak snowpack with collapsing and other signs of instability. In the early winter season there is often a thin snowpack which sits under clear skies for a while and this creates a weak base. When this is loaded with new snow there are often problems. It is a common early winter scenario in all climate zones. In many (but not all) places this will become less of a concern or irrelevant later in the winter or spring, but right now anyone venturing out should be aware that this is the very nature of a December snowpack.

Website Clean-up

In the last update we reported that the entire site was being link scanned and error logs were being reviewed for any problems needing attention. This has been mostly complete and major problems have all been addressed. There are minor programming messages that are not critical remaining, and a few other small webpage items, but the site is now back in generally good health.

One thing that was time consuming to troubleshoot and fix was the rss feed from our Nucleus blogs (Store, Education, Incidents, and Admin). In the course of fixing links we found that these feeds were not working properly because the url was not absolute and inclusive of the blog name or ID. After quite a bit of research and trial-and-error this can probably now be listed as fixed.


The minimum contribution to be a member is now $25, it used to be $35. (If this has not been updated somewhere let us know.) Members can access some additional information and features on the website in addition to the satisfaction of supporting the cause of avalanche safety. The programming for some of these features is being improved now. Quite some time ago it was reported that the password change page did not work, and we lacked the time to investigate. It now works again. Other improvements as well as benefits will follow soon.


Once again we will try to keep the Incidents section current. Last year it was brought up to date for the US in mid-season but then nothing more was able to be done. There is still some catching up to do from recent years, primarily the last one.

This year has already had two US fatalities and they have both been posted. Members can access the full incident files. Almost all of what we archive is public domain and can be found for free elsewhere, but it takes time to hunt for it. And after some time passes it may be moved or disappear. This is why we archive a copy of everything rather than relying on links in this section of the website.

In addition to archiving information on our server we add all incidents to a database which is now approaching 1800 entries. Anyone can search and sort this with limitations, but members can do so without any limits. As far as we know this remains a unique resource in its public availability as well as its global scope.

Education Section Quizzes

A lot of time has been spent rewriting the php code for our multiple choice quizzes. These have been available for a long time but the programming has become problematic over time. At first we did not realize this and then we lacked the resources (time) to correct it.

These changes do not affect the "Current Quiz" which uses different software and requires logging in either as a subscriber or a member. This is currently working fine but should be updated or rotated sometime soon.

The recent work does not add or change any content, just the functioning. Which was not correct. Now that this part is done we can consider adding new quizzes as time permits. Or if anyone wants to submit one we will most likely add it, subject to a quick review. We would of course credit you or your organization unless you request anonymity.

After taking a quiz and submitting it you are shown your results. This was not working properly (because the number of database entries was used to pull the last record out rather than the highest index). Now you will see the correct results for your submission. This is available to everyone.

The results are added to a database. In the past this was true for everyone including guests. As a result the databases became filled with junk from curiosity seekers and perhaps bots. We now only record the results if you log in, either as a subscriber or a member. If you are on our email updates list and enter your email your score will be recorded (using the part of your address before the @) and you will also be able to see a graph and table of all recorded results. So you can see if something you got wrong is frequently missed, maybe because it's hard or maybe because it is a poor question. With a better database we can also review the results for each question better now.

If you are logged in as a member you can do the same thing plus view the full results page where the answers are explained. In this case results are recorded by user name.

This has been fairly thoroughly tested, with various small problems discovered during the process. However, when more people use it there may still turn out to be bugs so please let us know if you encounter any problems with it.

Budget Details Updated, Contribution and Store Programming Fixed

The budget charts for the last season are complete, and in the process of posting that some problems with charts from the previous 2-3 seasons were also fixed. All budget information through September is now final and complete. The current season is posted although not much has been happening yet. We still have a debt of about $1500 to cover from our semi-dormant season and reorganization last year. You can find all of our budget and financial information, going back many seasons, from the main Financial Data page.

One of the major problem areas that has been corrected was the processing of contribution and store sales data. After processing a transaction some details are passed back to us, and this can be used to add people to the members file by email. At some point this stopped working, it has now been fixed. If you contribute at least $25 you should now be added immediately to the proper file. (This was being done manually for quite a while now, which took a day or two and caused some confusion.) Additional small errors that generated notices but not warnings or problems were also fixed, just to make the programming as clean as possible on this pass.

Ongoing Work

So what is left to do next?

The quizzes can still use some clean-up work as far as the introduction text and small presentation issues. What we need now is a page explaining how the system works in general for all quizzes.

The login systems can also use some similar improvements, especially with the addition of a free subscriber login in addition to membership. (In general if you log in both ways the membership should be recognized and take priority. But there is often no clear indication of a login status.)

The scripts related to membership and its features still need some major work, for improvements more than function. The basic functioning should mostly be ok at the moment.

There are already incidents occurring and this years entries need to be caught up for non-US incidents. On top of a lot of catching up from the later and more active part of last winter.

Help us Out

The details of what we need will have to be included in future updates over time. But a couple things we know we can use help with that have no geographical preference are:

Social Media - If anyone wants to help keep up some activity on Facebook and perhaps other social media let us know. This would be best as an ongoing effort, perhaps in conjunction with anyone else interested. It is not something that requires a fixed amount of time or a rigid schedule.

Host the Backcountry Film Festival - We've been approached about doing this but are not a fixed location organization. It would be possible, and great, if any of our supporters want to host this show locally for our benefit. It seems to be a pretty well pre-packaged deal with door prizes and films provided. It just needs a venue and some promotion, and maybe a few local extras for the door prizes/raffle. You could have fun doing this and support avalanche safety and awareness at the same time. We have some information and will get all the necessary details for anyone interested. This would require a certain amount of effort up to and through the event, although most of what you need is pre-packaged. Once the event is finished there would be nothing more to do on this. You could volunteer for something else or just call it quits and be satisfied with your significant one-time contribution of effort.


A lot is underway, and we will continue to do what we can with the resources we have. Our resources are limited so your help is appreciated, whether that is through a membership or by volunteering to help with something.

For the next week or so progress may be slow due to the holiday. As director I will have limited time while I travel from Tbilisi to the US and spend time with family before going to my Utah home base for a couple weeks and working from there.

If you are just getting ready to venture out one of our "quizzes" is called "First Tour". It has no answer page since it is more of a checklist of things to consider. It might be a good reminder to do a few things this time of year.

Jim Frankenfield
Executive Director

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