Friday, November 2, 2012

Avy center to have new director, new website

Changes under way for 2012-13

Express Staff Writer

The Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center is undergoing some changes this year, starting with a new director and continuing with a new website.

Former avalanche forecaster Simon Trautman has been chosen as the center’s new director, after former Director Chris Lundy stepped down at the end of the 2011-12 season.

“Chris was a really good director, and it was a bummer that he stepped down,” Trautman said. “But it was a good opportunity for me, mainly because it’s fun to feel like you’re driving the bus.”

Trautman was hired by the center two years ago, when Lundy was promoted to director to replace retiring Director Janet Kellam. Since then, he’s been one of the faces behind the daily advisories, which advise backcountry recreationists about snow conditions.

Trautman’s position has been filled by Scott Savage, an avalanche forecaster who was the snow safety director at Big Sky Resort in Montana for 15 years.

“He’s very highly respected,” Trautman said. “We got very lucky.”

Trautman said he appreciates his role as center director in a community that relies on the center so heavily.

“In this community especially, avalanche forecasting is important,” he said. “We provide an important community service.”

To that end, one of the first changes Trautman said he’s planning to make is to the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center website, Those changes will come this month, and will include a new home page that features a map of the different avalanche zones, colored to indicate the danger in those areas on that day. Visitors can roll their cursors over the areas to get a quick look at the avalanche advisory that day, or click on each zone to go to the full advisory.

Trautman said the change is partly an effort to modernize, and partly an effort to standardize local avalanche advisories with those across the country. The advantage of that, Trautman said, is that people travelling from skiing area to skiing area can easily understand the advisories everywhere.

“Avalanche centers around the country are looking to streamline their advisories, so everything means the same thing, whether it’s in Jackson or here,” he said. “We’re trying to get in front of that curve.”

The center will offer similar classes this year as it did last year, including avalanche awareness classes specific to snowmobilers, backcountry and out-of-bounds skiers, as well as more basic classes for all users.

Trautman said that the differences between the sidecountry, or out-of-bounds, classes and the backcountry classes will be minimal, but focus mainly on psychology.

“No one likes the term sidecountry, basically because it is simply the backcountry,” he said.

However, he said, it can be hard for skiers to make the mental switch between skiing in a patrolled ski area on Baldy to skiing on the other side of the rope, where conditions could be far more dangerous.

“You are leaving bounds, and once you go out of bounds, nothing is controlled,” he said. “You are on your own.”

Many of the classes will be sponsored by the Friends of the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center, a nonprofit organization that provides half of the center’s funding. Trautman said the organization essentially pays the salaries of the two forecasters working with him through fundraisers and by accepting donations year-round.

Trautman said the center would be working this month to get the classes organized and scheduled, weather stations set up and the new website changes in place. He said he expects the first advisory to go out around the first week in December.

Kate Wutz:

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