Friends Of The BTAC Spring Newsletter

The nonprofit that helps fund and facilitate the work of the
Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center

 Happy Spring from the Friends of Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center! 

This will be the last full newsletter of the season. We hope you have found them informative and interesting. THANK YOU to those who have donated throughout the winter. With 2/3 of the BTAC budget coming from private dollars, your generous contributions the work of the BTAC can continue. 

A few words about who we are and what we do- the Friends supports the BTAC by extending the forecast season as conditions require, improving the forecast and risk assessment tools available to users of the BTAC  website, and helping to provide avalanche awareness and education to the community. Our work provides backcountry travelers a wide range of tools and information with which to make their plans.

BTAC is the expert source for daily avalanche hazard information, real-time data from around the region, user sourced observations, and many other resources to support decision making for a safe and rewarding adventure.

Donate To Friends of BTAC

Celebrate the season with new BTAC Merchandise!


Celebrate the season with new BTAC merchandise. Show your support for BTAC with the purchase of our new hats and stickers, now available at the BTNF office located at 340 N. Cache. Hats are $20 and stickers are $2. All proceeds go directly to the BTAC.

Support BTAC with Your JHMR Pass Purchase


The spring pass sale for JHMR starts April 9th! Get the very best price for the 2019/20 season and support BTAC in the process. When you purchase your pass please check the box to donate $5.00 to the BTAC. The proceeds collected by this campaign are highly significant to the BTAC budget. Thank you to the JHMR for providing us with this important fundraising opportunity again this year.



Identifying Heuristic Traps in the Backcountry
 

90% of avalanches are triggered by the victims. What are the heuristic traps that most commonly lead to human triggered avalanches? Stay safe by becoming aware of and avoiding these common patterns. These factors were first identified by Ian McMammon in his 2004 article "Heuristic Traps in Recreational Avalanche Accidents" and have been expanded upon here. 

The expert halo: in which everybody defers to whoever is seen as the most experienced in the group. Don't discount your own experience, knowledge and observations when making decisions in avalanche terrain. 

Familiarity: Being familiar with the terrain can lead to complacency and riskier decision-making.  Perhaps you skied it yesterday and 100 times before that, but conditions change daily if not hourly in the mountains.  

Tracks: Tracks on a slope are not a sign of stability and do not indicate sound judgement of those who went before you. Trusting other tracks is bait. MANY avalanches are triggered by the third or fourth person in a group or by subsequent groups. And remember, those who wander may be lost. 

Competition: Competing against other groups for fresh powder, or against each other, can lead to bad decisions.  With more people in the backcountry powder fever can cloud your judgement.  First tracks are not worth dying for. 

Commitment to a goal: When the attainment of a certain goal, like a summit, becomes paramount, mistakes can occur. Having a plan is always a good idea, but be prepared to change that plan as conditions merit. 

Showing off: Sometimes known as Kodak Courage or Facebook Fame, the desire to impress others, whether it’s in your group or on social media, can negatively influence behavior. Remember that seeing is not always believing and does not mean a line is safe. 

Physiological condition: Tiredness, dehydration, hunger and cold can all reduce decision-making. Take care of your basic needs so you can perform at your highest level. 


Spring Forecast Schedule

The avalanche center will continue normal operations until Sunday, April 21. Shoulder season operations will occur from April 22 until late May. The last evening avalanche hazard forecast will be on Saturday evening, April 20, and the last morning avalanche hazard bulletins will be issued on Sunday morning, April 21. The last RPK weather forecast issued for the BTAC by the Riverton Office of the NWS will be on Sunday, April 21.

During the shoulder season the avalanche center will:

  • Continue to operate most of the automated weather stations.

  • Post the 24 hour summary of the weather station data on a daily basis.

  • Post avalanche observations, field observations and snowpit profiles.

  • Post weekly snowpack summaries.


Field and avalanche observations submitted by the public during the shoulder season are greatly appreciated.

Finally, due to a hard winter and an increase in sheep fatality, Grand Teton National Park has extended its bighorn sheep winter habitat closure on Mount Hunt and in the Prospector Mountain/Static Peak area from April 1 until April 30. Please respect these closures.

February News From The Friends Of Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center

The nonprofit that helps fund and facilitate the work of the
Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center

           Happy FABruary from the Friends of Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center! 

In an effort to keep the backcountry community informed about the work of the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center, we bring you the third in a series of newsletters.

Did you know that 75% of the BTAC budget comes from private donations via the Friends of BTAC? The Friends supports the BTAC by extending the forecast season as conditions require, improving the forecast and risk assessment tools available to users of the BTAC website, and helping to provide avalanche awareness and education to the community. Our work provides backcountry travelers a wide range of tools and information with which to make their plans.

BTAC is the expert source for daily avalanche hazard information, real-time data from around the region, user sourced observations, and many other resources to support decision making for a safe and rewarding adventure.

It has been a very plentiful season so far with more snow to come. Please be safe out there and look out for one another.

Donate To Friends of BTAC

Understanding the North American Avalanche
Danger Scale


With more backcountry users making risky terrain decisions this season, we thought it worthwhile to include a reminder of what the hazard categories mean. The North American Avalanche Danger Scale is a tool used by avalanche forecasters to communicate the potential for avalanches to cause harm or injury to backcountry travelers. For a video further explaining the scale, please visit https://avalanche.org/avalanche-encyclopedia/danger-scale/.

The Value of Partnership:
The Many Contributions of Wyoming State Trails



The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center (BTAC) would not be nearly as effective or wide-reaching without its many active partners. The Wyoming State Trails Program (STP) is one such partner that has had a tremendous impact on the BTAC’s ability to obtain equipment, disseminate information and reach new audiences. For this we are grateful and wish to share and celebrate STP’s contributions.

The BTAC has enjoyed support from STP since 2001. With the purchase of eight remote automated weather stations, STP initially funded the expansion of the avalanche forecast program into the Togwotee Pass and Greys River areas, which includes the Salt River Range and the Wyoming Range. These vast areas are heavily used by snowmobilers and to a lesser extent skiers, snowboarders, dog sledders, cross country skiers and snow bikers.

According to State Trails Program Manager Ron McKinney, “We recognized that avalanche forecasting, prior to this partnership being formed, was based primarily on ski area data while at the same time there was a growing number of snowmobiling related avalanche incidents in the backcountry. We were able to use Recreational Trails Program grant funds, which comes from the federal gas tax paid on fuel used in snowmobiles and other motorized off-road vehicles, to get this partnership started. This is a great partnership which continues to be extremely important for winter recreation across Wyoming.”

Over the past 18 years, STP has funded numerous additional projects heavily geared towards education of both motorized and non-motorized backcountry users. In recent years STP funding has enabled BTAC avalanche educators to provide avalanche education to communities and search and rescue groups across the state. This season alone BTAC staff have conducted classes in Afton, Rock Springs, Togwotee Pass, Sheridan, Saratoga, Jackson and at Antelope Butte Ski Area. Locations in past years include Cody, Pinedale, Rock Springs, Dubois, Sundance, Saratoga and Laramie.

STP funding has also supported essential in-house operations for the BTAC. Backcountry field days, which allow staff to obtain valuable information about the snowpack and conduct essential maintenance on the network of remote weather stations are made possible with STP support. Snowmobiles, an essential tool for the avalanche forecast staff, have been provided by STP.

“Without the support of Wyoming State Trails the Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center would only be relying on automated weather station data from local ski resorts and until just this season, Grand Teton National Park. The weather stations funded by STP are truly sited in backcountry settings and are hugely beneficial to our backcountry avalanche forecasting program, “ says BTAC forecaster Bob Comey.

In addition to supporting BTAC, STP partners with land management agencies to provide funding, labor and equipment for a large statewide network of winter trails that are essential to Wyoming’s winter economy. An emphasis is placed upon the federal lands that host 98% of all trails in Wyoming. The STP is funded through motorized user and registration fees along with state and federal gas tax distributions.

Jim Springer Reflects on His Years as a Forecaster

When you roll over at first light and check the avalanche report on your phone, it's easy to forget that forecasters on the other end of that repost have been up for hours analyzing information and preparing a report for backcountry travels. Jim Springer has been part of the dedicated BTAC team for nearly twenty years and will officially retire this year. Jim has devoted his life to helping keep people safe in the mountains. We are grateful for expertise we wanted to honor his contributions by sharing a little bit about his life and work. If you see Jim out and about in the mountains, please thank him.



Q: How did you come to live in Jackson Hole?
A: I first came to Jackson Hole to work as a Ranger in Grand Teton in 1984. I had been a Ranger at Mount Rainier for many seasons and had always wanted to climb in the Tetons.


Q: How long have you worked as a BTAC forecaster?
A: I believe in the mid to late 90s. I had been helping in the “Avy Lab” in the old Tram building for the ski resort, then began to write forecasts for the Forest Service. I was involved with avalanche education and rescues (body recoveries) in the Cascades since the early 70s and worked as a Ski Patroller at Crystal Mountain where there is a considerable amount of avalanche mitigation, similar to here. The patrol turnover was very high so it was in our (including my future wife) best interest to dive in and learn everything we could about snow science. We didn’t have leaders with decades of avalanche knowledge like here.


Q: What have you enjoyed most about working with the BTAC?
A: I really loved the times when the snowpack was complex and unpredictable; the weather forecast underestimated the wind and snow. Around five AM we had to take all the information from remote weather stations and combine it with our knowledge of the snowpack and the weather forecast and make a decision, give the hazard a rating and write a succinct forecast, all in about an hour. It can be very intense and requires a great deal of efficiency and hopefully, a bit of brainstorming with another forecaster, to get it done well, and on time.

Q:What are some of the most memorable moments in your avalanche forecasting career?
A:Memorable but not pleasant moments are when conditions are dangerous and although we have an accurate sense of the hazard and try to emphasize the seriousness in our forecast, someone is injured or dies in the very type of avalanche we warn is likely.

Q: What are your plans after retirement?
A: I plan to continue doing what I have been doing since my teen years: backcountry skiing and Nordic skiing in the winter and backpacking and climbing in the summers. I also hope to indulge my artistic avocation with more painting.

News From Friends Of Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center- Data Upgrades For Website

The nonprofit that helps fund and facilitate the work of the
Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center

           Greetings from the Friends of Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center! 

We are in the heart of winter and following last week's eight day storm cycle precipitation levels are near 100% of average. 

With these series of winter newsletters we will share the nonprofits goals and successes and as well as highlight partnerships and projects. We hope you find the content informative and helpful. 

A few words about who we are and what we do- the Friends supports the BTAC by extending the forecast season as conditions require, improving the forecast and risk assessment tools available to users of the BTAC  website, and helping to provide avalanche awareness and education to the community. Our work provides backcountry travelers a wide range of tools and information with which to make their plans.

BTAC is the expert source for daily avalanche hazard information, real-time data from around the region, user sourced observations, and many other resources to support decision making for a safe and rewarding adventure.

Donate To Friends of BTAC


By the Numbers: The 2017/18 Season
 

  • 102,169 unique users of the BTAC website

  • 1,000,000 page views of the BTAC website

  • 3,000 email subscribers for AM avalanche forecast

  • 2,250 email subscribers for the PM avalanche forecast

  • 6,285 emails every day for all 3 avalanche forecasts

  • 3,822 total hours worked by BTAC staff

  • 1,712 BTAC staff field hours 

Inversion Labs Created Interactive Online
Tools for the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center

The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center (BTAC) has data- lots of it. Since 1974 BTAC has been meticulously recording weather and avalanche data with details of each observed event archived. Each day, changes in wind, precipitation, new snow, snow depth, and snow settlement are tracked using data from snow study plots and backcountry weather stations.


Bob Comey, BTAC forecaster, wondered if all of this information could be visualized with an interactive online display, thereby allowing for analysis of trends over time and identification of more immediate patterns that contribute to problem layers in the snowpack. In the fall of 2017 Comey approached Patrick Wright and Tobey Carman of Inversion Labs (www.inversionlabs.com) and asked them to design a unique digital tool to do just that.

Inversion Labs responded with a suite of new software tools that provide an interactive visual display of weather, snowpack and avalanche data. Two new features, Historic Data and Snowpack Tracker, were introduced last season, while Storm Tracker is this season’s new addition.  Backcountry users can access data dating to 1974 with Historic Data, analyze seasonal trends with Snowpack Tracker, and look at recent hourly data from individual weather stations with Storm Tracker. (More details follow about Snowpack Tracker and Storm Tracker.) All three tools can be found via the BTAC website “Data Center” drop-down menu, or navigated to directly at snowpacktracker.com.
 

“Tobey and I were both skiers long before we learned computer programming," says Wright.  "I used to call the avalanche hotline every morning to plot new data with a ruler and pencil on graph paper tacked to the inside of my front door. So it’s been great to see this project become a reality and be useful for a larger audience." 
 

Although developed with forecasting in mind, these sites have received regular use by avalanche educators, highway avalanche technicians, and the general public, with traffic of 40-50 visits per day. 
 

“Tools that allow us to visualize historical data may help forecast avalanche danger," explains Comey.  "Donations received during the past 20 years and huge advancements in technology have enabled avalanche specialist at the BTAC to begin the process of digitizing historical records and using that data to analyze and understand avalanche phenomena. Developing and managing over 40 years of data is a daunting task that would not be possible without support from the Friends of the BTAC and a staff of highly qualified professionals.” 
 

Snowpack Tracker is intended for routine daily use, providing a view of primary weather and avalanche data for the previous 30 days. Wright explains that, “The standard display for Snowpack Tracker defaults to graphs of 24-hour data for the previous 30 days, sourcing data from five weather stations at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Display panels include snow study plot observations (new snow, snow water equivalent, total snow depth, and settlement) wind speed and direction (average and max gust), minimum and maximum air temperature, avalanche events colored by crown depth, and avalanche hazard rating for three elevation zones.”  Inversion Labs is currently working on the Snowpack Tracker mobile display. In the meantime, use a desktop or tablet device for best functionality.

Storm Tracker now offers easy-to-read visual displays of data with hourly updates from the past seven days. Gone are the days of painstakingly reading through raw data spreadsheets to access recent snowfall or wind speed. Storm Tracker shows air temperature, wind speed, wind direction, snow interval, precipitation and barometric pressure from a variety of weather stations on easy to read graphs.

Funding for this project was made possible through private donations to the Friends of the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center.  The Friends supports ⅔ of all BTAC’s operating budget. If you appreciate the work of BTAC, please consider making a contribution here.

If you are interested in attending a workshop to learn more about navigating and interpreting these databases, please send an email torebeccajhfriends@gmail.com.
Date to be determined.


     Meet Carol Peck, BTAC Website Developer

Q: How long have you been working with BTAC and what does your position entail?

A: I started on the website in 2004, when the previous developer left, so 15 years!  Before that, I worked as a software developer at UniLink software here in Jackson for 15 years. My skill set is centered around programming and databases. I am not a graphic designer, but we have been lucky to have talented designers to work with.  jhavalanche.org was one of the first websites I worked on, so the technology has changed a lot since 2004. My main workload is annual updates, which involve new features as well as keeping underlying components and data up to date. This year the work revolved around the design and page layout, other years it can be more on the back-end, such as tracking information -whether it is coming from weather stations or being entered by the forecasters.
 

Q: You also work with Greenwood Mapping. Tell us a little bit about that scope of work.

A: Greenwood Mapping is a software company that does web GIS for 17 counties-14 in Wyoming and 3 in Idaho. It started here in Teton County and over the years we have developed very strong relationships with our clients. The main work I do for Greenwood Mapping is database applications for various departments here in Teton County. A couple of examples are the Snake River boat launch reservation system for Parks & Rec and on line forms for the Housing Department to gather information from applicants. I occasionally tag along at the FOSS4G (Free and Open Source Software For Geospatial) annual conference which always blows my mind with the creative, smart folks that are working in that arena. 



Q: You recently revised the BTAC website. What changes are you most proud of?
 
A: This last year of changes was focused on a responsive layout. Somewhere around half of our users are now on smart phones, so it was time to be strategic about that trend.  With the help of a designer, it came together beautifully, so I am proud of that.  This isn't recent, but the other thing I am very proud of is the map of forecast zone hazard ratings on the home page. Bob Comey was the one who pushed for that and provided the initial funding. I developed that map starting in 2012. It now lives at avalanche.org - but it was both a fun and challenging project as well as a powerful tool that was able to be used by all avalanche centers in the US. In general, I'm proud of my  longstanding relationship with the BTAC. 5 years is a long time in the internet world, and I've seen many web projects where there is a new developer every few years. I think that relationship is critical. 


Q: Clearly you are a very busy person. Why do you chose to work with the BTAC in addition to Greenwood Mapping? 
 
A: Working for the BTAC has been a pleasure. When possible I gravitate towards work that has meaning for me beyond a technical challenge, so when I had the chance to work for the BTAC I jumped at it. I am a backcountry skier and use the site every day in the winter, as do most of my friends. That is a great feeling to have contributed to such a valuable tool.  

 

Thank You to Our Sponsors:

Have a safe and adventurous day in the mountains! 

The First Newsletter From Friends Of Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center

The nonprofit that helps fund and facilitate the work of the
Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center

Welcome to the first newsletter of Friends of Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center. With these newsletters we will share the nonprofits goals and successes and as well as highlight partnerships and projects.

First a few words about who we are and what we do. The Friends supports the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center (BTAC) by extending the forecast season as conditions require, improving the forecast and risk assessment tools available to users of the BTAC website, and helping to provide avalanche awareness and education to the community. Our work provides backcountry travelers a wide range of tools and information with which to make their plans.

BTAC is the expert source for daily avalanche hazard information, real-time data from around the region, user-sourced observations, and many other resources to support decision making for a safe and rewarding adventure.

Donate To Friends of BTAC

Board Chair Bill Maloney Shares His Thoughts 
 Why do you volunteer your time as the Chair of Friends of BTAC?

I believe that the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center provides a vital service to the Jackson Hole Community. This community has organized multiple government agencies, the Teton County Search and Rescue organization, the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol, and the BTAC into a coordinated program called Backcountry Zero. This program is dedicated to educating the public about back country issues and behavior in order to prevent/minimize backcountry injuries/deaths. The BTAC provides the data to make responsible decisions as well as participates in the educational component. The Friends organization provides the BTAC with financial support.


What successes would you point to in your tenure as Board Chair?

Recruiting and organizing a multi-skilled, engaged Board which is fully committed to the mission of the Friends. Participating in establishing a fund-raising program which enables the BTAC to meet its operating expenses as well as establishes a financial cushion in anticipation of  cut back in Federal Government funding.

Why should community members donate to Friends of BTAC?

The Friends organization contributes 2/3 of the BTAC’s operating budget.Without this revenue source, the BTAC would have to severely reduce its services to the community.

Avalanche Forecast Now Includes
Grand Teton National Park Weather Stations
 

Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center Partners with Grand Teton National Park and Grand Teton National Park Foundation to
Provide More Data to Winter Backcountry Users

 
It's no secret that Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) offers some of the best backcountry skiing in the western US. Each winter, hundreds of backcountry skiers and snowboarders enjoy the challenges and rewards of exploring the peaks every winter. Unfortunately, an uptick in backcountry users has resulted in increased human-triggered avalanches and fatalities. In recent years, GTNP recognized the need the need to enhance the avalanche hazard forecasts in the park. 

“Since the park is a significant portion of the forecast area, we wanted to collaborate with the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center for the benefit and safety of park visitors,” Jenny Lake District Climbing Ranger Scott Guenther said in a December 21, 2018 article in National Park Traveler. “With the help of Grand Teton National Park Foundation, we are able to partner with the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center to provide much-needed remote weather stations located within popular skiing terrain in the park.”

Last winter Park rangers and Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center (BTAC) staff executed several station siting missions in the park. Weather stations were purchased in August and with the help of GTNP rangers, the Surprise Meadows and Surprise Pinnacle stations were installed in September. Data from the station is collected, managed and disseminated by BTAC. 

Funding for the stations was obtained by the Grand Teton National Park Foundation in August 2018 via a crowd sourcing campaign. "We were pleased by the incredible response of our community to help purchase winter weather stations for the park and are happy to support this inter-agency effort that will impact backcountry skiers and riders for years to come," says Grand Teton National Park Foundation President Leslie Mattson.
 
Another exciting component to this impressive multi-organization collaboration is GTNP's creation of a new seasonal meteorological technician position. After a thorough national search of qualified applicants, Lisa Van Sciver was selected  to fill this position. Van Sciver's efforts for BTAC include avalanche education, weather station maintenance, field work and avalanche specific training for park personnel.  "The expansion into the park provides more data for the BTAC to make the daily Teton forecast and the opportunity for the center to work with the Jenny Lake Rangers," says Van Sciver. "It was an easy transition for me as I have been working with Bob Comey and the BTAC for five years through the ski area. I am pleased to change my role and focus my efforts on the backcountry.  As an avid backcountry skier, a mountain guide, and a ski patroller I bring a different background and experience to the forecasting team."
"We are so thrilled to see this project come to fruition," says BTAC Director Bob Comey. "Collaborations like these are a win-win for the safety of the backcountry community."

 

Did you know that BTAC provides weekly snowpack summaries?
Click here for the latest summary. 

State of the Snowpack Presented by
Headwall Sports

 

Every two weeks this winter you are invited to Headwall Sports to learn about the current state of the snowpack with an avalanche expert. Food and drink provided. More information here

Thank You to Our Sponsors:

Have a safe and adventurous day in the mountains!