Since 2001, the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center has been providing information to keep winter recreation enthusiasts safe in the backcountry around Girdwood, Turnagain Pass and Summit Lake.
Knowing weather and snowpack data only goes so far, though, without an understanding of how avalanches work and what forecasts mean. To bridge that gap, the information center offers periodic classes and training throughout its coverage area, and one of those classes is coming to Soldotna on Tuesday.
Forecaster Aleph Johnston-Bloom will hold an avalanche awareness class at 6 p.m. Feb. 4 at Odie's Deli in Soldotna.
"It's great for both people who are new to learning about avalanches and a good review. And it covers five different areas that are all part of what's called, 'know before you go,'" Johnston-Bloom said.
This is for all ages and all recreation types — skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmachining or however you like to get around in the mountains.
"It's for everyone and there should be some information that I think anyone, even if you've been in the game a long time or are new to it, there's some valuable information," Johnston-Bloom said.
Anyone familiar with the information center has probably heard their mantra of avalanche safety:
"So that's, 'Get the gear, get the training, get the forecast," Johnston-Bloom said.
The gear is an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe. The training is practice using the equipment. The forecast is checking the information center's website before heading out in the mountains.
Johnston-Bloom will add two more components of avalanche awareness in her presentation Tuesday. Get the picture means understanding avalanche terrain.
"I think people sometimes get caught up because they don't even know they're in an area that could have avalanches," she said. "So just touching on some of the basics of understanding, recognizing avalanche terrain, slopes over 30 degrees and places where snow can pile up more — terrain traps. And then I'll also be talking about signs that the snow is unstable, so teach people about ways to recognize when they're out there how Mother Nature's saying, 'Hey, actually it's pretty unstable today."
The final part is to get out of harm's way.
"Teach people about safe travel practices in the backcountry, whether on snowmachines, skis, snowshoeing — ways to manage yourself if you are choosing to go into avalanche terrain," Johnston-Bloom said.
This is the first time in a couple years the information center has held a presentation on the central peninsula, so Johnston-Bloom hopes to see a good turnout. And if you check out the daily forecast on their website, you'll know that Tuesday isn't likely to be a great day to be in avalanche terrain.
"We just came out of a period of low danger because we had this long stretch of cold, clear weather and not much going on. But we just got some snow load on that and there's now some buried weak layers so it's a little bit more concerning at this point," she said.
The workshop is free and preregistration is not required. You can find daily forecasts, weather observations, avalanche reports, upcoming events and a lot of other information on the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center's website at cnfaic.org.