Wednesday, December 3, 2008

New avalanche site sweeps online next week

National Avalanche Center Web site will host an improved avalanche tutorial

Express Staff Writer

Brushing up on avalanche safety basics will become more accessible next week as officials with the Ketchum-based U.S. Forest Service National Avalanche Center unveil their new Web presence.

Just about the only thing that will remain the same is the center's online address: Undergoing a significant overhaul is the center's online avalanche safety tutorial, said the center's director, Ketchum resident Doug Abromeit.

Abromeit said the switch from old to the new is expected to take place on Friday, Dec. 12, just in time for the 2008-09 winter backcountry season.

Unlike the existing online tutorial, the new one is simplified and cuts out extraneous information. It's designed to better serve the more inexperienced lay person who hasn't spent years traveling through backcountry avalanche terrain.

Included in the newly redesigned Web site will be a number of imbedded instructional videos showing backcountry users how to conduct things like a rutschblock test—used to identify weak layers in a snowpack—and compression tests, Abromeit said.

"It's basically like reading an avalanche awareness book, but it's online," he said.

Despite it's usefulness for beginners, that's not to say that old hands in the backcountry can't learn from the tutorial as well, Abromeit said. He said the tutorial is the perfect preparation for anyone intending to take an actual avalanche field course, something the center still strongly encourages.

"It's a great way to get people more aware about avalanches," he said. "It supplements avalanche courses."

He said the tutorial is also a great way for people who have already taken avalanche courses to brush up on their knowledge before heading out into dangerous avalanche terrain.

"After people go to a class it's a great reference," he said.

Contributing to the redesign were Abromeit, Jennifer Lomax of Glacier Graphics in Ketchum and John Plummer of Plummer Photography in Hailey.

"It was pretty much designed from the ground up," Abromeit said.

Local avalanche centers around the country—including the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center in Ketchum—as well as snowsports manufacturers and various media outlets will continue to link to the National Avalanche Center's Web site.

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