Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sun Valley, local vendors band together for avy education

2nd annual Sawtooth Snow Safety Festival scheduled for Saturday

Express Staff Writer

Small avalanches peel off of a hillside near Ketchum. Photo by Willy Cook

This Saturday, the Sun Valley Ski Patrol, area sporting goods stores and the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center will hold the second annual Sawtooth Snow Safety Festival, meant to educate all skiers and snow users about the dangers of avalanches.

Sun Valley Ski Patrol Assistant Director Mike Davis said that though the festival officially started last year, this year the event has doubled in size, and likely in scope.

“It was a low-key deal,” he said. “It started out with Brent Hansen [owner of Ski Tek in Ketchum] putting together a sandwich platter and gathering some locals around.”

Now, he said, the event has more than doubled in size. While the event last year drew 60 people, Davis said he expects upwards of 200 people to attend this year’s festival.

The festival will take place from noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17, at Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge in Sun Valley. The event is sponsored by Sun Valley Co. as well as the Sawtooth Mountain Guides and the Sawtooth Avalanche Center.

The first part of the afternoon will include product demonstrations and sales, along with avalanche transceiver testing and education.

Backwoods Mountain Sports owner Andy Munter said that vendors—Sun Summit Ski and Cycle, The Elephant’s Perch, Ski Tek, PK’s Ski and Sports, Sturtevants, the Board Bin and Backwoods Mountain Sports—will have avalanche gear, such as beacons, shovels, probes and air bags on display for demonstration and sale noon to 2 p.m.

“It’s neat to see all of the stores and the avalanche center and Sun Valley put on a event that is really designed for the community to learn about avalanches,” Munter said. “[We thought] it would be really good to get everyone together and include all of the other stores that are selling things for the avalanches and backcountry.”

Munter said that the highlight of the product exposition would be the “Airbag Blow-Off,” in which several attendees will get the chance to test avalanche airbags. The airbags are designed to be deployed by a skier or other user in case of avalanche, and the bag is meant to keep the user above the surface of the snow and prevent him or her from being buried.

Munter said the airbags are not foolproof, but that they are popular in Europe and can help in the event of a slide.

“It keeps them on top of the snow,” he said. “But you can certainly hit trees and get buried by more snow coming up behind you once you stop.”

The product expo will be followed by a series of lectures, which Davis and Munter said would serve the festival’s purpose of educating locals about avalanche danger both in and out of bounds on Bald Mountain.

The presentations will run from 2:30- 5 p.m., and will cover everything from how to ski safely on Baldy and in the backcountry, how to make good decisions in avalanche terrain and how group dynamics can affect decisions made in avalanche terrain.

Munter said that a lecture by Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center forecaster Scott Savage would be one of the “most interesting” presentations. The lecture, titled “A Time and a Place for Everything: Making Sound Decisions on When and Where to Play in Avalanche Terrain,” will take place at about 4 p.m.

“He’s given this talk many time in many places and he’s one of the experts in how to stay safe in avalanche terrain,” Munter said.

Part of the goal of the festival is to make sure locals understand that the “sidecountry,” or out-of-bounds skiing on Bald Mountain, is just as dangerous as skiing in the backcountry. Davis said he hopes that locals will come to the festival, understand the risks involved in “ducking the ropes” and take other avalanche safety courses to expand their knowledge.

“The industry has done a disservice by marketing [the sidecountry],” he said “We get families and tourists out there that have no business being out there. If it educates one person and that person is then smart enough not to go back there in high avalanche danger, that’s worth it.”

Kate Wutz:

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