Guest Column: Sierra Avalanche Center support grows despite drought
May 21, 2014
When you add up what goes into a season of avalanche forecasting in the Northern Sierra Nevada, a couple of numbers stick out.
There is 131: the number of avalanche advisories written and posted by Sierra Avalanche Center's professional forecasters and observers over the winter.
And then there is 250: the approximate number of new donors who became members of Sierra Avalanche Center since the nonprofit began a membership drive last fall.
These are just two figures in a mountain of data that Sierra Avalanche Center compiles each year at the end of the ski season to track a winter's worth of work — but they encapsulate the identity of the nonprofit Sierra Avalanche Center.
By adding in a couple more numbers, it is even more evident that center's work is a useful tool for thousands of backcountry travelers.
The center's website generated an average of 2,040 page views each day of the season, totaling 299,265 page views throughout the winter.
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But back to the first two numbers. The 131 avalanche advisories represent a monumental amount of work by two very experienced avalanche forecasters and two part-time avalanche observers who put in hundreds of miles on the skin track, and countless hours of snow pack observation, testing, and analysis each winter to inform backcountry skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers about daily avalanche dangers.
If you have been out skiing the backcountry the last several years, chances are you have run into Brandon Schwartz or Andy Anderson, the forecasters who take on the huge task of analyzing the snowpack across a vast area that runs from Yuba Pass north of Truckee to Ebbetts Pass south of South Lake Tahoe.
As if putting out 131 high-quality avalanche advisories was not enough work, this season SAC has also developed a Snowmobiler Avalanche Education Program funded by the California State Parks Off-Highway Vehicle Grants Program.
Throughout the winter, SAC put on three, free, two-day education courses that included both a day in the classroom and a day in the field. The avalanche center also built a comprehensive educational campaign from the ground up that included a public service announcement video, printed education material, social media marketing and outreach to regional snowmobile dealers and clubs.
Sierra Avalanche Center has applied for grants in the hopes of continuing this program and developing a youth "Know Before You Go" avalanche awareness program next year as well.
Which brings us to the number 250, which represents the support of the Truckee, Tahoe and Northern Sierra communities that ensure Sierra Avalanche Center can continue to provide this vital resource for backcountry travelers.
It is no secret this year was a drought year with a snowpack well below normal. But avalanches still occurred, and long periods of cold weather created persistent weak layers and avalanche danger in the shallow snowpack.
Over the course of the winter, 29 avalanches were reported to the Sierra Avalanche Center (and many more were observed after the fact). Two people were partially buried and one person was fully buried in avalanches in Sierra Avalanche Center's forecast area, thankfully with no serious injuries or loss of life.
Those 250 new members, and all the recurring donors to the center, are critical to the nonprofit's success. All of the ski resorts in and around Tahoe that donated lift tickets for Sierra Avalanche Center ski days — Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Sugar Bowl, Northstar, Homewood, Mt. Rose, Kirkwood, Heavenly and Bear Valley — funded almost two thirds of Sierra Avalanche Center's budget this year.
SAC is also grateful to all the Extreme Sponsor partners who showed their support. International Mountain Guides, Alaska Snowboard Guides, Lite Pro Gear, Jones Snowboards, Tahoe Mountain Sports, The Real Graphic Source, Alpenglow Sports, Polaris, KTKE 101.5 Radio, Outside Television/Lake Tahoe TV, Liftopia and the Bill Foster Memorial Fund all generously donated $3,000 or more in support of the avalanche center this winter.
SAC thanks every member, donor and volunteer for supporting another successful season for the Sierra Avalanche Center.
Don Triplat is president of the Board of Directors of the Sierra Avalanche Center, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that partners with the U.S. Forest Service to fund daily avalanche advisories and avalanche education programs in the Northern Sierra Nevada. Learn more at http://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org.