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Avalanche safety: Know before you go

Raise a glass and ski for the CAIC
Avalanche awareness is a culture all its own, blending snow science, mountainous terrain management and navigation and companion rescue. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is a statewide online bulletin that offers regional daily updates on avalanche conditions and operates a great deal on donations. A fundraiser is being held Wednesday at the Powerhouse Science Center in Durango.

Along with food, beer, music and a silent auction, for many, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s annual fundraiser has officially become the unofficial start of winter.

This seventh annual Friends of the CAIC event will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. on Dec. 9 at the Powerhouse Science Center in Durango.

The CAIC, a state entity, has long been Colorado’s authority for avalanche conditions. With 19 forecasters – half for the Colorado Department of Transportation and half for the state’s backcountry areas – fundraisers put on by Friends of the CAIC, the financial arm of the organization, help pay their salaries.

“The community events are fantastic,” said FCAIC executive director Aaron Carlson. “It gives everybody an opportunity to support the center. When you look at it, it’s really the users’ center – it’s their tax dollars and their donations paying for it, so these events really get people involved and engaged.”

The CAIC’s loaded, user friendly website equips the public with crucial information that was previously somewhat convoluted.

Brendan Trimboli, the event organizer for the last two years, said attending is a way to get plugged into the avy savvy backcountry community.

“I don’t think by going to this event you’re going to become an avalanche expert, but it does allow you to network with a lot of people who are,” he said. “It also gives you an opportunity to find out what resources are available, and there really are quite a lot.”

Those resources come from regional CAIC forecasters who spend their winter months documenting storms, studying the snowpack, curating public observations and making daily and even hourly observations on overall conditions throughout the Colorado Rockies. It’s a tall order, especially in the San Juan range, where one Telluride-based forecaster manages a swath of mountains the size of the Swiss Alps. Carlson hopes to add another body to the San Juan team.

When Trimboli, a running race director with event experience and avid backcountry skier, was asked to fill the role by the owners of Pine Needle Mountaineering, he wasn’t about to say no. After one of his first backcountry tours with La Plata County Search and Rescue member Leo Lyoyd, the two were on their way home when Lloyd received an emergency call. It was February 2, 2013, and there was an avalanche near Silverton. A young Durango man was killed.

“It was the day Peter Carver was involved in the slide up there,” Trimboli said. “Being such a novice in the backcountry, it really opened my eyes.”

The death of Carver, then Joe Philpott, another Durango man who died in an avalanche in northern Colorado that same season, rocked the community and created a call to action.

Today, a scholarship fund in their names sends several recipients to avalanche school every year. This year’s scholarship awards will be announced at the fundraiser on Wednesday.

“The more people we can reach with that information, the better,” Trimboli said. “Hopefully we can prevent some accidents.”


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