Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Haines Avalanche Center to hold free regular classes


October 17, 2019

Temperatures have begun to dip below freezing, stirring winter recreators and, with them, the Haines Avalanche Center’s announcement for regular avalanche awareness classes.

Beginning Nov. 14, free courses will be offered every other Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the public library. 

“In past years, we’ve done them sporadically throughout the winter, but this year we wanted to do more of them more frequently,” Haines Avalanche Center director Erik Stevens said. “We’re trying to increase safety as much as possible and this year seems like a time to do it.”

Last May, 34-year-old Haines resident David Dzenawagis died in an avalanche while snowboarding on Mount Ripinsky. Stevens said the tragedy incentivized staff to do more to educate citizens.

Stevens and forecaster Jeff Moskowitz will teach the courses on avalanche awareness, beacon practice, and topics of interest to participants.

“If there is snow on the ground we can go out and bury beacons,” Stevens said. “If not, we can simulate that. We’re hoping to make sure that if people do get into trouble that they know how to use their beacon and avoid another terrible accident happening. The real goal here is to make it muscle memory for people so they don’t even have to think about it if they ever have to use (a beacon).”

The courses are sponsored by a grant from the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

The center will begin snow forecasting next month, depending on conditions, though Stevens said forecasts may be limited due to unknown funding status from the borough.

In April, Stevens requested $20,000 from the Haines Borough Assembly, money the organization annually relies on to support forecasting and educational classes.

The assembly has yet to allocate funds, or even discuss funding for the Avalanche Center.

The Haines Avalanche Center employs three part-time staff from November to April. They gather snowpack observations in the mountains and track weak layers throughout the season. Ordinarily, staff put out three forecasts a week.

Without local funding, Stevens said they might have to cut back.

“If we don’t get that level of funding, we’re probably going to be stuck just doing one weekend forecast per week,” he said. “The implication would be that people have less information when they go out. They won’t know what to expect. That’s why it’s really crucial that we produce a forecast as many days a week as possible.”

The courses will run through February. 


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