‘Know before you go,’ slide forecaster says | ParkRecord.com

‘Know before you go,’ slide forecaster says

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

In 2005, a record-setting season for avalanche fatalities in Utah, there was one small ray of hope.

According to slide forecaster Craig Gordon, none of the victims were school children, a statistic he attributes to the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center’s popular education programs.

"I run into students quite a bit and they indicate that the information helped them to make educated and informed decisions before going out in the backcountry," Gordon said about the Know Before You Go curriculum. "Not one teen was killed in a year that it certainly seemed possible for inexperienced people not to recognize dangers in such a dangerous year."

Money will be raised Friday during an event that begins at 6 p.m. at the Grand Summit Hotel at The Canyons to help ensure avalanche experts continue to visit schools in Utah to teach students how to stay safe in the mountains. Tickets are $60.

"The kids love it," Gordon said.

In three years nearly 50,000 students have experienced the Know Before You Go program, Gordon said about the 50-minute assembly that has occurred in schools in Coalville, Kamas and Park City.

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"In three years, not one teen has been killed in an avalanche (in Utah) and I think programs like this do help," he said, adding, "it’s not just focused on skiers or snowboarders. It covers every user group and that’s probably why it’s so successful."

Friday’s dinner and auction will feature keynote speaker Jim Shea Jr., a Park City Olympian whose foundation touts safety in the backcountry.

"I’m really happy to get behind them," Shea said. "To be able to educate people to stay on top of the snow instead of underneath, it is a good cause."

Meanwhile, Gordon hopes events like Friday’s make backcountry enthusiasts aware of dangers that exist in the woods even during years with scant snowfall.

"We’ve got a very weak, shallow snow pack pretty much statewide," Gordon said. "Once it starts snowing, it’s like a house of cards that’s sitting out there right now."

Stressing the hidden danger to students is critical to keeping them alive, he said.

"These types of years can be deadly years. It’s kind of counter-intuitive because people don’t think that there is much snow," Gordon said. "People are jonesing to go out and ride powder and the snow pack doesn’t know that. The snow pack doesn’t know that they need to go out and get freshies."

Programs like Know Before You Go teach teenagers basic avalanche science to help them recognize when snow layers are unstable.

"Even a kid who is going to go out and snowshoe or hunt, these are basic life skills that these students can take with them," Gordon said. "Especially living so close to some of the most avalanche-prone terrain in the country."

But money from private donors keeps programs to educate the public about avalanche danger alive, said Bruce Tremper, a spokesman for the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center.

"[Fund raisers] unfortunately are very important," Tremper said.

For avalanche forecasts updated daily visit http://www.utahavalanchecenter.com or contact (888) 999-4019.