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Getting the drift of building an avalanche center

Posted: Wed Feb 01, 2006 10:56 pm
by Snow Nymph ... rpart1.txt


Getting the drift of building an avalanche center
By Christina Reed

Wednesday, December 14, 2005 5:26 PM CST

Mammoth Times Staff Writer

The Eastern Sierra has long lacked its own avalanche center, but all of that is about to change-as quickly as the snow is falling. No longer will Eastside backcountry enthusiasts rely on somewhat vague reports of snow conditions and wonder whether the avalanche advisories pertain to our region.

Thanks to the generous efforts of the Bardini Foundation (for years the only avalanche advisory for the general area), the Sierra Mountain Center and numerous other experts in the field of snow, the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center recently was launched-up and running on the Web site,

According to ESAC board member SP Parker (co-owner of Sierra Mountain Center in Bishop), "Things are going along well." With board members Walt Rosenthal (from Mammoth Mountain Ski Area), Howie Schwartz (a guide from Big Pine), Alan Pietrasanta, Nate Greenberg (from Mammoth Lakes), and Sue Burak (forecaster) guiding the formation of the new center, the current focus is on fundraising.

Mono County generously donated $5,000 to the center's development and Parker said, "Inyo County is seriously thinking about it." The Mammoth Community Water District kicked in $1,000, and other contributors, including Footloose, Wave Rave, Mammoth Mountaineering and Mammoth Mountain, are "filling a big need."

Each of these entities has vested interests in snow pack conditions and data collected while in the backcountry, and Parker hopes that in the future, others, like the Town of Mammoth Lakes and surrounding communities would see the value in keeping their visitors informed about backcountry snow conditions and safety issues.

With the increase in backcountry use nationwide, accurate avalanche assessments can have a positive impact on the safety of visitors. The categories of avalanche risk include snowmobilers, snowboarders, snowshoers, cross-country skiers and campers. Last year, due to the heavy snowfall, there were several avalanches that captured the attention of locals and visitors. One terrible slide occurred on Mount Tom, killing experienced skiers and burying local residents.

The ESAC site has specific details about snow conditions from Mammoth Lakes to Rock Creek drainage, Parker reviewed, and some of the information provided is quite technical in nature. The topographical maps give viewers a better idea of the different snow aspects of particular drainages, and eventually, Parker hopes the site will carry from the southern reaches to the Sonora Pass.

Membership to the ESAC involves a $35 contribution and members will receive several avalanche advisories each week, Parker outlined. However, the site has free information for everyone, and Parker advises checking into avalanche courses over the year as well, to hone in on snow skills. The site will offer information about avalanche safety courses, and will help the Mono County Search and Rescue group put on the first Avy Savvy course in early January.

Forecasting or advisories are the specialty of Burak, a volunteer with the US Forest Service in Mammoth Lakes. She will use Forest Service space and equipment to help post daily advisories, and will bank data (phoned in from backcountry users) to post on the site.

The Inyo National Forest wanted to be on the same page with the avalanche center. However, due to cut backs in some positions, the post that Burak will hold is the perfect solution to a funding problem. The membership funds, Parker says, will be used for operations and Burak's daily attention to the snow advisories.

Right now, Parker and the board have set their sights on "getting the word out, and using the information. There is a need for it," Parker noted.

The Eastern Sierra is "one of the last mountain ranges to get an avalanche center. This area has needed one for a long time. It won't prevent accidents, but it will give people information to base their decisions on," Parker commented.

However, "it is still easy to make mistakes" when it comes to snow conditions. The avalanche site, Parker warned, "is not a substitute for avalanche courses and experience."

This is the first in a three-part series on the formation of an avalanche center in the Eastern Sierra-one of only three in the entire state of California. In upcoming issues, the Mammoth Times will look at manning an avalanche center, the logistics of avalanche advisories and the experiences of the experts enlisted in the avalanche center's development and operation. -MT

Posted: Thu Feb 02, 2006 12:30 am
by SSSdave
Thanks mucho for that link SnowNymph. Ever since I read Moynier's "Backcountry Skiing California's High Sierra", I've been dreaming of climbing up and corn skiing some of those places in the spring. Just been hard for me to break away from my spring photo work each the last few years. As a minimally experienced bc skier it will be nice to be able to have this new source of information available. There are a lot of new bc skiers out these days. Interpretting snow in basic ways can be done by anyone with a few tools and training, however it is complicated enough that I for one will be preferring to rely on experienced experts advice before even considering most routes.

Now who is going to carry me up one of those McGee chutes?

Posted: Thu Feb 02, 2006 11:26 pm
by Snow Nymph
We took our Level 1 Avy Course from SP last year. I think I was more afraid after the course because of what I learned. I want to get out more, but will wait til someone is willing to let me tag along.

A few people have asked about this so here's the link:

The next class is Feb 4-6 (this weekend), and the one after is March 18-19.

Photos from our Level 1 Avy Course:
Day 1:
Day 2:
Day 3:

Posted: Fri Feb 03, 2006 1:22 am
by SSSdave
Way to go gal in you two taking that course! Something I haven't done myself. However I read my copy of Daffern's "Avalanche Safety for Skiers and Climbers" each year. I especially need to get practice using my Barryvox. We snow sliders are soooo much more interested in sliding.


Posted: Fri Feb 03, 2006 8:02 am
by copeg
Snow Nymph wrote:We took our Level 1 Avy Course from SP last year. I think I was more afraid after the course because of what I learned. I want to get out more, but will wait til someone is willing to let me tag along.
I felt the same way when I took the class from SP a few years ago. I learned not only how to better predict stability, but also a huge sense of humility. Especially because many times I break the cardinal rule of travel - I go solo a lot. But when I do go, I try to avoid sketchy terrain and go when it is very stable and usually just tour rather than charging down that prime 38 degree slope :paranoid:

David, there are some other avy courses offered in and around the tahoe area (I think kirkwood and Bear Valley too). I don't have the links on hand at the moment, but they shouldn't be too hard to find.

Posted: Fri Feb 03, 2006 1:40 pm
by Snow Nymph
Dave, do your skins leave sticky stuff on your skis? My splitboard got sticky last season. I'm not sure if I should be doing something different storing the skins. I dry them out, then use cheat sheets, and keep them in the bedroom. We don't use the heater so it doesn't get too warm.