Film series makes a push toward avalanche awareness |

Film series makes a push toward avalanche awareness

Craig Gordon delivers an avalanche talk. Image courtesy of Utah Avalanche Center.

This weekend, an unlikely organization the Park City Film Series will be promoting safety in the backcountry. But while that mission is new to the series, the medium will remain familiar; the organization will show "Know Before You Go," a 17-minute short film dedicated to promoting avalanche awareness.

"It’s going to precede the screening of ‘New York Dolls,’" said Frank Normile, the film series’ executive director.

He said Larry Bywater, a member of the Film Series’ board of directors brought the film to the organization’s attention.

Bywater, who also volunteers for Summit County’s Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team, said he discovered the film when filmmaker Craig Gordon who is also an avalanche forecaster for the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center brought the piece to a search and rescue team meeting.

"I had seen some footage there that I had never seen before, and I thought it was some very interesting info that was very relevant to the people in Park City here," he said.

So he talked to Gordon and Normile, and the group organized the screenings.

"In a mountain community, such as Park City or Summit County, this seems to be a natural fit," said Gordon.

The film is the cornerstone of the "Know Before You Go" program, which started two years ago after an avalanche roared off the slopes of Mount Timpanogos, killing a several teenagers in the Aspen Grove area. The state-wide effort aims to educate youth about the danger of avalanches and unstable backcountry snow conditions.

According to Gordon, the video was made to catch someone’s attention.

"When we see something happen in a graphical or visual way," he noted, "it kind of sticks."

The film was made with visual impact in mind. Reminiscent of a new-school ski-video with an avalanche subject, Gordon said the piece had little in common with a PBS-style documentary. Instead, the film includes a soundtrack and a variety of backcountry user groups.

"I think the overriding feeling is [of] the powerful dynamics of moving snow," said Bywater.

"It’s kind of MTV-esq," Gordon said about the video.

That fits with the style the kids and audiences in general want.

"They don’t want to be preached to," said Gordon. "They want to see some exciting stuff."

After an avalanche professional shows the video to a class or group, Gordon said, the educator will typically talk about his or her job and how kids can keep themselves safe from avalanches.

But, he emphasized, "Know Before You Go" does not simply aim to scare kids away from the backcountry.

"It’s not an abstinence-only program," he said. "But we want people to realize there’s consequences for your decisions or lack thereof."

The program has been running for two winters, and this year, Gordon said he and his associates have reached over 15,000 students with the Know Before You Go program, and while last winter was the deadliest in memory in terms of avalanche accidents and deaths Gordon pointed to an interesting statistic.

"It was the first year in several years that no teen was involved in one of the accidents," he said.

This year, he noted, with a good snow pack, the state has only seen one avalanche death and none among teens.

Normile said he was happy his organization can help the avalanche-awareness mission. While at the film series, the video won’t include a talk from an avalanche professional, he said the organization had further plans for the film.

"We think, next year, we’re going to expand this to twice-a-year at the beginning of the season," he said.

"It really awakens one’s self that you’d better be educated and you’d better know what you’re doing," said Bywater. "I think it’s essential that we all be prepared and we all be educated."

"Know Before You Go" will screen before the three screenings of "New York Dolls" this weekend at the Park City Film Series. For more information about the avalanche film, visit

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