California Avalanche Workshop public event Saturday at Lake Tahoe Community College
With a strong possibility of at least an average winter in the Sierra, rescuers are gearing up for avalanche season.
The Sierra Avalanche Center is a nonprofit devoted to providing advanced warning of danger and tips to avoid being caught an avalanche during ski season.
On Saturday, the second annual California Avalanche Workshop returned to Lake Tahoe Community College as part of an effort to promote backcountry travel awareness among skiers, snowboarders and backcountry hikers.
The all-day event, inspired by avalanche awareness and snow-science workshops in other mountain regions, was open to the public.
It featured eight speakers discussing a variety of backcountry topics.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for continuing education,” said David Reichel, event organizer and community college wilderness education coordinator. “I do think a lot of the public doesn’t understand the risk.”
The program was geared toward anyone interested in avalanche danger and backcountry travel topics.
“There’s not that many opportunities for backcountry skiers (snowboarders and snowmobilers) to get together,” Reichel said of part of the inspiration for the event.
Speakers at Saturday’s workshop included David Page, a contributor to Los Angeles Times Magazine, Men’s Journal, Powder, The New York Times and Outside Magazine, along with other publications. Page recently authored “The Human Factor,” an avalanche story for Powder Magazine that was a National Magazine Award Finalist for 2015.
National Weather Service forecaster Zach Tolby discussed the upcoming El Niño predictions and what it could mean for the Sierra.
Longtime Tahoe backcountry skier Jon Rockwood presented his account of the 2012 Ward Creek avalanche.
Nine-time X Games snowboard medalist Kevin Jones also shared experiences of his 25 years in backcountry travel.
Additional presenters discussed other weather and avalanche forecasting topics, as well as innovations in avalanche safety gear and education.
“The snow science and avalanche science is changing quickly,” Sierra Nevada avalanche forecaster Andy Anderson said. “Workshops like this are a great way to get information out.”
He echoed Reichel’s notion that the workshop is geared towards backcountry experts and novices alike.
“Everyone should be able to get something out of it,” he said.
Snow Sports Industries America — the trade association that monitors ski and snowboard industry sales and trends — annually reports that backcountry gear is one of the fastest growing areas of the ski and snowboard industry.
That’s some cause for concern among those promoting avalanche education programs.
“Anecdotally we’ve seen incredible growth (of backcountry travel) in the last 10 years,” Anderson said. “I would hope to see the same increase in the number of people taking avalanche classes.”