Lake Tahoe's backcountry users once again can log their vertical feet in an attempt to score prizes and a hefty donation for the Sierra Avalanche Center.
The Tahoe Backcountry Vertical Challenge is back on and organizers hope that this will be the season that their goal is reached.
"We've challenged the entire backcountry community to a cumulative goal of 15 million vertical feet of uphill travel," said Brendan Madigan, owner of the North Shore shop Alpenglow, the event's main sponsor. "Last year we grew about 300 percent, but we came up short about halfway through. Considering the winter we had, that's pretty good."
The Tahoe Vertical Challenge is based around TahoeVertical.com, where users input the amount of vertical feet traveled each day they've been in the backcountry. The website calculates the total combined vertical feet of all users as well as ranks the users based on their individual totals.
Because the site allows each user to monitor their own backcountry stats day-to-day or season-to-season, it's become a useful tool that's led some to simply compete with themselves, Madigan said.
"People use it as a personal challenge," Madigan said. "If nothing else it's just a good database for personal data."
The men and women with the top three totals in the competition win prizes, including alpine touring boots, a GPS system and a helmet and goggles combo pack. There are also bimonthly raffle prizes and gift certificates for personal progress for anyone who has registered any vertical feet.
Though some do it for the rewards, the underlying focus of the competition is to raise awareness about avalanche safety by supporting the Sierra Avalanche Center, Madigan said. The center and its small staff of forecasters depend on fundraising and donations. And this event is a big part of that, said SAC Program Director Jenny Hatch.
"It rallies the backcountry community together," Hatch said. "It really does have a big impact."
This year, users of TahoeVertical.com can add snow conditions and their own avalanche observations into website. With only two professional avalanche observers, the information helps the center get a more well-rounded picture of the avalanche danger that exists at any given time, Hatch said.
Last year, more than 240 people registered for Tahoe Backcountry Vertical Challenge and logged more than 7 million vertical feet, with some individuals totaling in the hundreds of thousands. This year, Madigan hopes for more users, more snow and more vertical feet.
"This year we hope to make it," he said.
The event started Nov. 15 and runs through April 15, 2013, and is free to enter. All uphill travel must be human-powered.