After eight winters of analyzing snowpacks in the Wood River Valley, Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Director Chris Lundy is stepping down.
Lundy inherited the position from former Director Janet Kellam, who retired from avalanche forecasting in 2010. But Lundy said he's been working with snowpacks and snow science for much longer than that.
He first became a forecaster at the Avalanche Center in 2004, after finishing his master's degree in snow science at Montana State University in Bozeman. He spent four winters ski patrolling at Bridger Bowl Ski Area near Bozeman, biding his time and waiting for a chance to use his avalanche forecasting expertise.
"I'd been waiting for a forecasting position to open in Bozeman, and that wasn't happening," he said.
So when the position at the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center opened up, he said, he jumped on it.
"I was hooked," he said, both by the "incredible" backcountry terrain around Sun Valley and farther north and the Avalanche Center itself. While the Avalanche Center has a staff of only three, Lundy said, it had the perfect combination of efficiency and effectiveness.
"It's the perfect-size operation," he said. "It was established enough that they were doing everything the bigger centers were doing, just on a smaller scale."
The reason for the smaller scale, he said, was that Sun Valley was more known for its groomed ski runs than its backcountry offerings.
"Sun Valley is kind of off the radar as far as a backcountry destination goes," he said. "A lot of people like that and want to keep it that way."
And while Sun Valley may be making a name for itself in backcountry and sidecountry, or out-of-bounds, skiing, Lundy said the center retains a sense of personal connection with the users of its advisories. Each daily advisory gets nearly 1,000 views, both through the center's website and through its emailed advisories—a far cry from when Lundy started, when it received most of its use through the recorded advisory hotline and via faxed advisories.
Despite those high numbers, Lundy said, the center retains a relationship with its users.
"The public here trusts us because they know us, and we have a better idea of what the public is looking for," he said.
Lundy said he's leaving to seek "new challenges," but he's not yet sure what those new challenges will be. His successor hasn't been chosen, but the Forest Service is screening applications and he said he expects the center to name a director by early next month.
"I have no doubt that next year's team will be as strong as ever," he said, adding that the position has drawn a number of very qualified people.
However, the successor will be faced with the challenge of continuing the valley's avalanche education to the standard that Lundy has set. He said that one of the biggest challenges will be reaching out to sidecountry skiers, or skiers who duck the ropes on Bald Mountain to ski out of bounds.
Lundy and fellow forecasters Blase Reardon and Simon Trautman launched a few sidecountry avalanche awareness classes, but Lundy said the program was not as successful as he would have hoped.
"We need to get some of the hardcore sidecountry skiers on board with the program," he said. "In some ways, it's hard for the hardcores to try to support people who are new to their activity—no one wants to draw more people out there. But being more educated is only going to help everyone."
Katherine Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org