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Party for slide safety

Bob Berwyn

It may seem a little early to start thinking about snow, but it’s not too early to make plans to attend the big Colorado Avalanche Information Center fundraising bash, set for Sept. 6 at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden.The 2002 Friends of the CAIC Avalanche Jam will feature live bluegrass music by the Ogallala String Band, a Kodiak Island salmon bake, beverages from the New Belgium Brewery, along with a silent auction and gear giveaways.&quotOur hats are off to the people at Backcountry Access for putting this thing together,&quot says CAIC director Knox Williams. &quotWe have our fingers crossed that this will be a success.&quotGrassroots support is an important part of the CAIC’s budget. Williams says. Major sources of funding include the Colorado Department of Transportation, which has already guaranteed its share for this coming season.&quotCDOT assured us they are not about to cut their support, despite the state’s budget crunch,&quot Williams says. Along with providing avalanche forecasts for backcountry travelers, the CAIC works closely with CDOT to keep Colorado’s mountain highway passes open and safe for travel and commerce.Another big chunk of funding – $117,000 – comes from a special oil and gas severance tax fund. That amount is also secure, according to Williams. The ski industry has also contributed substantial amounts each season, and Williams says he is always little nervous about that funding source. Since there is no year-to-year commitment, the level of support from the ski areas can vary depending on economic conditions, he adds.&quotWe appreciate the support from all the Friends of the Avalanche Center,&quot says Breckenridge-based forecaster Nick Logan. &quotIt helps keep us going, and we always make sure that money goes back into the program.&quotThe avy experts weren’t quite ready to offer snowfall predictions for the coming season, but they did explain that they are planning to upgrade the center’s services. That includes opening an office in Breckenridge to help process and disseminate information relating to local conditions in areas that see high use, including the backcountry around Breckenridge, Montezuma and A-Basin, as well as Vail Pass. The center will open a similar office in Crested Butte, another backcountry hotbed, Williams says.The Website will also see some upgrades, with more graphic, color-coded displays to show hazard levels. The site will also feature a page where backcountry and ski area observers can enter data. Up to now, the staffers at the Boulder office collected that data by phone.The center will continue its education and outreach programs, including a new one-day snow and avalanche workshop set for Oct. 16 at Keystone.Although snowfall was relatively sparse across much of the country last winter, avalanche deaths climbed to 35, a record number since 1950, which marks the beginning of the modern era for the CAIC. The average number of annual avalanche deaths in the U.S. stands at 30, based on a five-year moving average.In Colorado, eight people died in snowslides last season, up from an average of six. CAIC forecaster Dale Atkins, who compiles statistics for the center’s Website, says those numbers may keep climbing as backcountry recreation continues to gain in popularity.&quotFor as lame a snow winter as it was, we saw a fair number of accidents and injuries,&quot Atkins says. He attributes that in part to attitude. When it finally does snow during a lean season, people are anxious to go out and get the powder, and they’re more likely to downplay hazards. Additionally, when the snowpack is thin, it means the rocks and stumps are not buried as deeply. That can lead to more traumatic injuries, Atkins says.For information and reservations for the fundraiser, call (303) 417-1345 or e-mail info@bcaccess.com. More info is available at the CAIC Website at http://geosurvey.state.co.us/avalanche.


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