Utah Avalanche Center hosts first spring fundraiser | ParkRecord.com

Utah Avalanche Center hosts first spring fundraiser

Trent Meisenheimer of the Utah Avalanche Center stands at the crown of a massive avalanche in the Uinta Mountains. Avalanche forecasters must spend time in the field to make accurate forecasts.
Photo by Jim Harris/Utah Avalanche Center

For the first time in its existence, the Utah Avalanche Center is throwing a spring fundraiser in addition to its regular fall fundraiser.

This season, it has a little more on its plate. The nonprofit is raising funds online through April 8 to help cover the costs of forecasting and education for the upcoming season.

“Believe it or not, from the nonprofit side, our busy season is summer when we are updating those programs,” said Chad Brackelsberg, executive director of the UAC. “This summer, we have planned updates for all of our on-snow programs as well as our Know Before You Go programs.”

The UAC’s goal is to present the Know Before You Go program to all seventh and eighth graders in Utah.

Brackelsberg said the avalanche awareness program, which is given in a classroom setting, is delivered to more than 5,000 Utahns each year. Now, Brackelsberg said, it and the organization’s on-snow programs will receive some adjustments to incorporate new insights about avalanches and fit the programs to the standards of the American Avalanche Association’s curriculum.

Those expansions and the training required to implement them fall outside of the costs normally covered by the UAC’s revenue sources. The nonprofit is partnered with the U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center, which receives federal, state and county funding that accounts for about a third of the center’s $1 million in yearly operating expenses. The nonprofit is responsible for bringing in the bacon for the remainder.

The day-to-day operations of the UAC are labor intensive and costly. To produce one avalanche forecast costs hundreds of dollars, and last season the nonprofit produced more than 1,000 of them.

For each forecast, a UAC forecaster spends a full day in the field gathering information, then looks weather reports and any comments submitted by the public about the zone in question. That information is synthesized into a forecast for one of the nine regions that the UAC covers.

“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Brackelsberg said. “Especially in ranges like the Uintas, where there’s a lot of variability from one place to another, it takes a lot of effort and analysis to put together a report that’s accurate for the entire zone they are forecasting for.”

In essence, there is no way to do the job well without “boots on the snow,” Brackelsberg said, even with the welcomed support of an active public that regularly submits information.

Because of above-average snowfall this season, there have been more than 200 human-caused slides in Utah, which have caused five fatalities.

“Our forecast staff is definitely spending more time getting accurate forecasts to the backcountry users,” Brackelsberg said of the intense season. “From the backcountry perspective we really try and reach as many people and offer as many on-snow and classroom classes as possible to make sure people know the dangers of the backcountry during those times and make sure they stay safe if they are going to be traveling in the backcountry.”

Brackelsberg said the organization set its fundraising goal at $25,000 as a way to test the waters.

“This time of year, people are starting to think about mountain biking, rock climbing and trail running,” he said. “We didn’t know how successful we would be in convincing people that it still is ski season. There still is a good two months left of season at least.”

Those who want to make a donation can do so via Venmo to @utahavalanchecenter or can mail a check to Utah Avalanche Center, PO Box 521353, Salt Lake City, UT 84152-1353.

Those who donate $100 or more are entered to win a Voile splitboard or the pair of skis of their choice, an Ortovox 3+ Rescue Kit or a certificate for an Outdoor Research Hemisphere Jacket. For more information go to Utahavalanchecenter.org.

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