Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Avalanche Center steps up education program

Online advisories go graphic

Express Staff Writer

Mike Schley, right, a Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center field instructor, takes students through the paces during an Avalanche Basics field session at Galena Summit.

Podcasters can now get spoken-word avalanche advisories online. Daily advisories on the Internet will have the same 7 a.m. avalanche and mountain weather information available through the telephone hotline, but online readers can now see graphics depicting avalanche concerns such as storm snow, wet slide and wind slabs. Those who use iPods and those who prefer the spoken forecasts can also listen to the audio link available on the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center Web site,

The SNFAC has other new programs, in particular a gift of Swiss-made avalanche search training technology to be installed in the 5-acre field along Sun Valley Road by Christmas, said avalanche forecaster Chris Lundy. The Avalanche Beacon and Rescue Training Park will be open to the public all winter.

"It is an easy way to practice," Lundy said, explaining that the community is the beneficiary of a generous grant from the Wattis-Dumke Foundation that provided the $10,000 automated system. It can be used by any backcountry travelers looking to improve their avalanche rescue skills. The system includes an instruction panel and a control panel that can simulate up to four buried skiers. When searchers find each buried unit with their probe, a signal on the control panel lights up. "Flip the switch and away you go."

The Avalanche Center hopes to move the training park up to Baker Creek, north of Ketchum, during Avalanche Awareness week Jan. 30 through Feb. 5, 2006, and it will stay there for the rest of the winter.

The goal is to promote avalanche awareness and allow as many people as possible to learn about and practice their avalanche rescue skills," said Janet Kellam, SNFAC director.

To receive daily advisories by e-mail, subscribe from the advisory pages or home page at

"For those of you that like to roll out of bed and hear the forecaster's cheery voice each morning on your speakerphone or give a cell phone call while you are in transit, the hotline number 622-8027 is always available," Kellam said.

Three-hour Avalanche Basics classes begin on Tuesday evening, Dec. 6, at Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. No registration is necessary. The Blaine County Recreation District will be raffling off a North Valley Trails season pass. Tickets are $5 at the door and all proceeds go to further avalanche education in the Wood River Valley.

"We're looking at a pretty good start to the backcountry snow year," Lundy said Monday. "A lot of people have been out skiing and it looks like we have a couple of good storms coming."

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