Aspen fundraiser to boost Colorado Avalanche Information Center | PostIndependent.com

Aspen fundraiser to boost Colorado Avalanche Information Center

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Reader and Basalt resident Darrell Walker captured this image of an avalanche on the east peak of Mount Sopris from his deck. Walker said the slide happened last week.He learned of it Friday while using binoculars.
Darrell Walker/courtesy photo

IF YOU GO

What: Apres in Aspen, fundraiser for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center

When: Saturday from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Where: Highlands Alehouse

Cost: $20 ticket

A fundraiser will be held in Aspen Saturday for an organization that has worked around the clock at times this winter to try to keep backcountry travelers safe from avalanches.

Friends of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center will host the Après in Aspen party at the Alehouse at the base of Aspen Highlands from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. The funds will benefit the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

“What the Friends is trying do is build the best avalanche center the state has ever known,” said Aaron Carlson, executive director of the group.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center gets funded from four primary pots. It contracts with the Colorado Department of Transportation for services that keep the state roads safe. It receives some Colorado severance tax revenues and a grant from the U.S. Forest Service. Friends of CAIC provides funds to help expand services for backcountry travelers. Specifically, it wants to provide funding so that each zone in the Colorado mountains has a forecaster working seven days per week.

Friends raised $620,000 for the avalanche center last year. It’s aiming to raise $1 million annually according to Carlson.

“Historically, we’ve asked people to help keep the lights on,” said Carlson, who has been with Friends of CAIC for 10 years. Fundraising has progressed beyond that bare-bones point. Now it’s beefing up the organization and filling out the services.

The Friends group is trying to raise funds to support 10 seasonal forecaster positions. Matt Huber forecasts for the Aspen zone. Brian Lazar, CAIC’s deputy director, also lives in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The need for local expertise was demonstrated this winter, which has been one of the deadliest in recent years. Throughout the state, 37 people have been reported as caught in avalanches, 15 have been buried and 8 killed. Three Aspen-area men have died in backcountry avalanches this winter.

In 2015-16 through 2017-18, there were a combined nine avalanche deaths in the state, so this winter alone has already been nearly as deadly.

The last season that was deadlier than this year was 2012-13, when there were 11 fatalities in Colorado.

CAIC’s staff was particularly busy this winter between Feb. 28 and March 14 when powerful waves of snowstorms raked the state. CAIC recorded 811 avalanches throughout Colorado.

“Of those avalanches, 589 were large enough to bury, injure or kill a person, and 142 avalanches were ‘very large’ or ‘historic’ in size,” CAIC lead avalanche scientist Spencer Logan and Carlson wrote in a report posted on the organization’s Facebook pages. “In those two weeks, the CAIC recorded more than twice the number of massive avalanches than in the previous 5 years combined.”

One such avalanche triggered off Highlands Ridge, down the K-Chutes and Five Fingers Chutes and into Conundrum Valley, southwest of Aspen. One avalanche expert said it was likely a 300-year slide based on the volume of snow and debris, and the force that ripped out mature conifer trees. A house in the debris path was damaged but spared catastrophic damage by a “splitting wedge” retaining wall.

A warm, dry period has reduced the avalanche danger to moderate or 2 out of 5. However, the potential size of avalanches is not decreasing, according to the CAIC report.

Logan and Carlson wrote that forecasters worked around the clock over the two-week storm cycle that just ended.

“This past cycle is one for the record books,” Logan and Carlson wrote. “It has been absolutely amazing to watch — not only the avalanches — but also the amazing efforts of the entire CAIC team.”

Friends of CAIC launched its spring fundraising campaign with a goal of raising at least $50,000 for more forecasters, better outreach and more education. One of its most successful programs is Know Before You Go, which teaches and rudimentary information about backcountry safety. It was designed with middle school students in mind but it has been popular with people younger and older, Carlson said. It’s has reached more than 16,000 people.

Friends of CAIC has held at least five fundraisers at the Highlands Alehouse in recent years. Tickets to Saturday’s event are $20. That includes two Fat Fire beer tickets, one door prize ticket and a slice of pizza. Additional beer tickets and drawing tickets will be sold to benefit the avalanche center.

Cripple Creek Backcountry and Strafe Outerwear have provided drawing tickets as sponsors. All ticket sales and additional beer sales will support CAIC.

Event tickets can be purchased in advance at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/apres-in-aspen-party-at-highlands-alehouse-to-support-friends-of-caic-tickets-57835119399.

People who want to donate to the avalanche information center but cannot attend the event can give online at https://avalanche.state.co.us/donate/.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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