LAKE TAHOE — Without a single avalanche death reported in California during the 2011-‘12 season, the final advisory of the year for the Sierra Avalanche Center will be posted Saturday, April 23.
For both avalanche conditions and fundraising for the center — a nonprofit institution — in 2011-‘12 has been an average year, officials said.
“Overall, it’s been a good season,” said board president and chief fundraiser Justin Broglio. “It’s been a long winter for everyone. Our fundraisers were on par with other years, but we could always do better.”
With above-average snowfall and avalanche conditions peaking into the “extreme” danger level in December, several full burials and injury incidents were reported. But incidents and deaths aren’t an accurate indicator of how dangerous the season was or how educated or aware backcountry skiers and snowboarders are, said forecaster Andy Anderson.
“All but three of the close calls happened on moderate days,” Anderson said. “And that’s true throughout the country. Most of the fatalities happen on moderate days.”
The moderate danger days are tough because they’re in a “gray area” of danger, Anderson said. And around Tahoe the majority of most winter seasons are spent in the moderate or considerable danger levels, he said.
Across the country, 16 avalanche deaths were reported during the 2011-‘12 season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. California has averaged just less than one death per year since 1950.
The number of people accessing the backcountry continues to increase, Anderson said. Alpine ski setups are the fastest growing segment of snow sports retail, according to Snowsports Industries America. And the number of people using the avalanche center’s website has tripled in the last two years, Broglio said.
“What we champion and hope for is for the education to grow as fast as the retail,” he said.
The amount of funds donated to the center is somewhat proportionate to the amount of avalanche danger in any give season, Broglio said.
“When tragedy strikes or things get hard, our donations increase,” he said.
The center partnered with seven ski resorts to host benefit ski days. With help from Snowbomb.com, the center sold lift tickets for the fundraising ski days online and generated a good amount of donations that way, Broglio said. Other sponsors included Thin Air Motorsports, Porters Lake Tahoe, Voile USA, and Backcountryaccess.com.
This year the center was able to put $10,000 into an endowment. The goal is to reach $1 million so the center can sustain itself, and the center would forecast through May like avalanche centers in Utah and Colorado if it had the funds.
For forecaster Brandon Schwartz, the year was “busy, continuously busy.”
“We dealt with a lot of different snowpack with so much early season snow,” he said.
Now that the snow and the avalanche danger are melting away, Schwartz is looking forward to some time on the coast. Anderson will head to Colorado to work for the U.S. Forest Service as a ranger in the Rockies for three months before returning to his home in North Shore. And Broglio will be sticking around to work with the Forest Service in the forests around Tahoe.