Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Do you know the snow?

Fifth annual Avalanche Awareness Week kicks off Monday

Many Wood River Valley Residents check the avalanche advisory as faithfully as they check their e-mail or their horoscopes, logging in every morning to find out how risky their backcountry trek might be.

However, Chris Lundy, director of the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center, said not all residents have an accurate idea of what their risk might be on any given day.

"People misestimate the risk of even the slopes around town," Lundy said. "There's a lot of people in the valley who don't know anything about [avalanches] at all."

That's a problem the center is attempting to remedy next week through its fifth annual Avalanche Awareness Week. Held from Jan. 31 to Feb. 5, the week features several educational programs and a week-ending film festival, all designed to draw valley attention to the sometimes-fatal snow slides.

The series was started five years ago by former center Director Janet Kellam as a way of alerting local residents to the dangers of living in avalanche areas.

"Avalanches are just kind of a way of life," Lundy said. "This was a way to get people excited about avalanches, about learning about avalanches, everything."

Despite the high number of backcountry enthusiasts in the valley, Lundy said, many local people simply don't know enough about the types and causes of slides, nor do they realize how much danger they may be in on any given day.

"A lot of people have a kind of a general sense of what [avalanches] are and what effect big storms can have on conditions," Lundy said. "But there's a lot of people in the valley who don't know anything about them at all."

This year's avalanche awareness week kicks off with an avalanche primer of sorts, a class on basic avalanche conditions and terrain held by center forecasters. Lundy said this class is a basic overview, excellent for those just starting to gain avalanche knowledge.

The most in-depth of the classes is the Avalanche Basics for Snowmobilers class. The class serves as a primer for snowmobilers and a refresher course for those who have taken prior avalanche classes.

The week culminates in the Best of Banff Film Festival and raffle, which runs Friday, Feb. 4, through Saturday, Feb. 5, at the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum. Films from the Banff Mountain Film Festival will be screened starting at 7 p.m. The event includes raffles each night, with the proceeds from the $5 tickets going directly to the center's operating budget.

Lundy said half the center's funding comes from events such as these, with the other half provided by the Forest Service and other agencies.

Lundy said the classes held next week will probably be the last basic avalanche education classes held this season.

"By February and March, people lose interest," he said.

Katherine Wutz:

Avalanche Awareness Week

Looking to learn about avalanche safety? Here's what's on the docket for Avalanche Awareness Week:

- Avalanche Awareness Program: 7-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 1, Room 903 at the Hailey Community Campus. An introduction to avalanche terrain, conditions and rescue. Arrive promptly; no signup needed.

- Avalanche Basics for Snowmobilers: 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 3, at Legion Hall in Fairfield. An introduction for snowmobilers or a refresher for other backcountry enthusiasts.

- Avalanche Beacon and Rescue Training Clinic: 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 5, at the Avalanche Rescue Training Park on Sun Valley Road. This course in how to use an avalanche beacon is only offered this week. No signup is needed; please arrive promptly.

- Avalanche Basics Field Session for Snowmobilers: Saturday, Feb. 5, at Chimney Creek in the Soldier Mountains west of Fairfield. An all-day follow-up to the Avalanche Basics for Snowmobilers class. Participants must bring their own snowmobiles.

- Fourteenth annual Best of Banff Film Festival and raffle: 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 4, and Saturday, Feb. 5, at the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum. Doors open at 6 p.m. for refreshments and social hour before films begin at 7 p.m. The raffle will include an estimated $10,000 worth of prizes, including the grand prize day of heli skiing donated by Sun Valley Helicopter Ski Guides. Raffle tickets are $5 each or five tickets for $20.

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